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Friday, November 30, 2012

Harmonic Convergence: Brussels Sprouts

Ah, nothing makes the frugal heart sing as much as unexpectedly finding something you need--or even want--on sale. Such happened to us last weekend. We were whiling away some time at Whole Foods (yes, a favorite family activity at home and abroad), when I spied BRUSSELS SPROUTS 99 cents a pound. Man, that is cheap!

We bought a big bag and gave some to Frugal Son.

For even more harmonic convergence, a recipe appeared on the New York Times website. Turns out that that the humble and oft-reviled brussels sprout is positively chic. Here is the recipe; the author says improvise. It took a lot longer than 20 minutes, however.


Sea salt
8 ounces penne
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 large rosemary sprig
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 jalapeño or Serrano chile, thinly sliced (or substitute 1 large pinch crushed red pepper flakes)
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons butter
Fresh lemon juice, for serving
Freshly grated pecorino cheese (optional)

Bring large pot heavily salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook until pasta is just al dente (do not overcook).
Meanwhile, heat large sauté pan over high heat and add the olive oil. When oil is hot, add the pancetta and rosemary, and sauté until the fat on the pancetta starts to turn translucent and very lightly brown, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, chile and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and sauté until garlic and pancetta turn richly brown, about 3 minutes. Add the brussels sprouts, a large pinch of salt and a splash of water to pan, and sauté until sprouts just start to soften, about 2 minutes. Spread sprouts mixture in pan and press down to flatten. Let it sear for a minute, then stir it up and repeat. This helps brown the sprouts. Add the butter, and sauté for another minute.
Drain penne and add it to pan with brussels sprouts mixture. Cook, tossing, until everything is well mixed. Spoon into pasta bowls and top with a drizzle of oil and lemon juice, and a little cheese if you like.
YIELD 2 servings

Frugal Son returned to Whole Foods a few days later, hoping to get more. Alas, the sale was over.

Have you had any unexpected frugal opportunities?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

An Easy, Very Good Vegetable Soup

I just posted this on my other blog--an unbelievable easy recipe for vegetable soup made with frozen and pantry ingredients. This is surprisingly good, given how easy it is. Mr FS ate two bowls. Of course, he eats two bowls of almost anything.

Here is the recipe, from a clever cookbook called Almost from Scratch. The author creates recipes using "convenience foods"--like packaged bbq pork and the like. Some of his his ideas are gimmicky. For instance, he flavors a soup with packaged onion dip. Why not just use sour cream and dried onions, which you are more likely to have? Still, the book is full of genius ideas, and I plan to post on a few of the more easy and cheap offerings.

I have added some College Cooking modifications. This makes 6 servings.

Broccoli-Spinach--Potato Soup with Cheddar

Saute 1 cup frozen chopped onions in a little butter.
(CC Modification: just throw these in the rice cooker. You can try to saute in it, but it is a pain. Oh well.)

Add 32 oz broth.
(CC Modification. OR some broth with water and a few cloves of garlic. Or just water with garlic.)

Add about 10 oz frozen chopped broccoli and 10 oz frozen chopped spinach.
(Remember: you don't have to be exact.)

(Turn rice cooker on. When it comes to a boil, click on warm.)

When everything seems done, puree with your stick blender.

Stir in 3/4 cup instant mashed potatoes. (OR a leftover baked potato or a few frozen french fries or--losing potato flavor--some cooked rice)

(Keep on warm.) Add grated cheddar and serve.

You can also add some milk or even stir in some cream cheese.

Don't boil once you add the milk products!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Plug for my Cookbook: A Gift for the Harried

We are not Black Friday shoppers. In fact, we have been lounging around all morning. No doubt the good deals are gone. Thank heavens for that!

Even so, I have a plug or pitch or whatever you want to call it. If you look at my other blog, you will see that my zeal for helping out the poor, hungry student--or any busy person really--has been reawakened. The reawakening is courtesy of a review in a college paper, which outlined the experience of a college cook: armed with a college cookbook (not mine!), plus $50.00 worth of ingredients, she produced 3 small meals, none of which came out very well. UGH.

For the same $50.00, you can buy your College Cook my cookbook ($2.99 on Amazon or for a pdf here--look to the upper right), a rice cooker, and a box of ingredients: rice, canned tomatoes, tuna, broth, canned beans, tortillas, and so on. Enough to make almost a week of meals. The book calls for a single shopping trip, mostly canned and shelf-stable ingredients, and offers a series of COORDINATED recipes that use the ingredients in different ways.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shop at a Small Business: Amex $25 Credit

I posted about this last year. For some reason (I would like to know who's paying for it: AMEX or the merchants), AMEX offers a $25 statement credit if you shop at a small business on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. You have to register your card.

I did this last year and was skeptical about the whole thing. I thought it was a hoax. So I used the credit at the little grocery store down the road. And, by golly, I got the credit!

This year, I noticed small print to the effect that different cards on the same account must be registered separately. WHAT??? We have 4 cards on our account: me, Mr FS, Frugal Son (emergencies only), Miss Em (ditto).

You can look up qualifying small businesses on the site. Mr FS and I want to go to the little grocery. Miss Em wants to go to UAL, which we have shunned this year, because she tends to overbuy at their 80% off prices. And Frugal Son plans a trip to St James cheese, which is truly a paradise.

We don't do Black Friday chez Frugal. We don't really do malls any time. But venturing out on Saturday to a little store: seems like a possibility.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Holiday Bazaar Wares and Food: Ideas?

Frugal Son--and some of his colleagues--are thinking about renting a booth at the Holiday Bazaar at their school. The booth rental ($40) is the fundraiser. As well, some local restaurants are donating part of the proceeds of their food to the school.

Here are the ideas Frugal Son came up with:

1. Hand-drawn or printed cards done by Miss Em, who is a very good artist
2. Small homemade loaves of bread (see our how-to vimeo)
3. Limoncello (we have a lemon tree!)
4. Mulled wine

My ideas:

1. Potato-leek soup
2. Spreads (cream cheese and...whatever)
3. Chocolate dipping spoons

Since Frugal Son and his pals are interested in helping the school AND in making a bit of money, the goal is to find things that are fairly cheap to make and--as important--usable even if they don't sell.

Any ideas, creative readers?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Another Try: College Choices and a True Confession

Hmmmmm. The responses to my last post suggest that I was less clear than I hoped. It has been a difficult few months fo me, it is true. No wonder I can't write.

I will probably be unclear AGAIN. Nevertheless, another try.

I was struck by the fact that Sarah's parents had shelled out $20,000 a year for 4 years and that Sarah faces $20,000 in student loans, which her parents are committed to repay. I wondered if--looking ahead from that place almost four years ago--the parents regret the college choice. After all, Sarah is at a medium-level private school and majored in Psychology. So prestige-factor (crucial if one aspires to an academic career) and major (Psych does not necessarily lead to a lucrative career or anything in particular) are lacking.

I further wondered if parents should look ahead to the TOTAL cost of 4 years and figure out how their financial commitment could best be deployed. I did not mean to suggest that Junior be offered a car if he went to a lower cost school. UGH. I knew parents who did that. Bad idea, in my opinion.

I did wonder if parents should think about what they could give their kids with the total cost. Sarah's $100,000 could buy:

1. A BA from a mid-level private college with regional reputation.
2. A BA from a state school, with enough left over to buy a car (AFTER GRADUATION) and a hunk of a house.

I don't think people think like that. Should they?

The reason I am wondering is this. I put away some money in a 529 plan. My children are super test takers and ended up with totally paid degrees from state institutions. The 529 money languishes. It can be used for grad school and that may be where it will go. I can also take the money out, paying a small penalty. The money belongs to ME and Mr. FS.

Yet part of me--let's be honest, most of me--feels that I would like to share the leftovers with my children, both of whom did very well in college and have many options before them. While not $100,000 (don't I wish!), the money could ease their passage into independence. Kind of like a dowry in the olden days.

Do I make any sense this time? What would you do with the 529 money?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Should College Students Reap the Benefits of their Choice

Mr FS and I attended musical event last night. At the break, we talked to an acquaintance. Our chat followed a familiar course.

Acquaintance: How is Miss Em?
Me: Fine. How's Sarah?

There follows a 10 minute monologue detailing Sarah's many accomplishments. Poor Miss Em! The inquiry is perfunctory really: the acquaintance is only interested in blabbing about her daughter.

Las night the conversation took an unexpected turn. Instead of the expected bragfest, Mom said "I can't wait till Sarah graduates. I told her: that's it!" After some questions, I learned that Sarah--who attends a mid-range private college--got a lot of grants ("the tuition is over $40,000"). Still, Sarah faces $20,000 in debt and Mom and Dad pledged to pay it off.

I said, "$20,000 isn't all that bad for 4 years in a private college."

Mom said, "That doesn't count the $1800."
Me, "A year?"
Mom, "No, a MONTH."

I love math, as long as it's low level, so I quickly computed that we are talking about around $100,000 in after-tax income. Mom is a paralegal and I'm not sure what Dad does--something with maps.

Then I started thinking. If Sarah had elected to go to a state school, she would have received the Louisiana tuition scholarship (TOPS). Mom and Dad would have been on the hook for about $10,000/year for room, board, and books.

That totals $40,000. What about the other $60,000? Well, that could buy Sarah a car post graduation, leaving around $40,000 for a house down payment.

While I've heard some parents offer a wad of cash in lieu of a wedding to the happy couple, I've never heard of anyone offering to let the student reap all or even part of the financial benefit of choosing a lower cost school.

What do you think of this modest proposal?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Emergency Savings: An American Concept?

Almost back from a bout with the flu, or something. Dire times at Frugal Son's place of employ.

Frugal Son is working (under-employed at the moment) at a tiny bilingual school, one of the many charter schools that popped up in the post-Katrina years. Last week the employees learned that--because of a mistake made by the former financial officer (???maybe, rumor mill at work)--three of the non-teaching staff were let go. The lowly paid staff, I'm sure.

Frugal Son was shocked that one employee--who had been working for two years--had no savings. A request was circulated amongst the staff: please donate what you can. I'm no longer shocked by such requests: I've gotten many over the years, including some for helping with funeral expenses.

Frugal Son was worried for the woman, but also incredulous that she hadn't saved anything for a rainy day. I mentioned that after two years, she would surely be eligible for Unemployment.

That made him feel better. Then he said, But she's French. I'm assuming French people employed in the US are eligible for Unemployment? Right?

But then I wondered: do French people--or Europeans from the wealthier countries--have a concept of an Emergency Fund? Does the social safety net function as an Emergency Fund? Is the Emergency Fund an American concept, owing to the very lack of that safety net?

Does anyone know? Frugal Son has a tiny emergency Fund at the moment, but he's only been working since mid-August.