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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Potato Corn Chowder with a dash of nostalgia

Oh, how I needed some potatoes, my comfort food of choice.

Visiting the dentist is fairly stressful in and of itself.  Plus, we have a new dentist, thanks heavens, this time with a decent office staff, but still--no dentist ever says the same thing. Today's visit was something of an emergency (more stress); the new dentist's advice had/has to be weighed with my common sense. I will spare everyone the details.

I had to park in a grocery parking lot. Time for potatoes, the ultimate comfort food. I wanted to make a soup, but am without stock of any kind. I remembered the first potato/corn chowder I ever ate: at a departmental pot luck at a small school where I used to teach (1987), my genial colleague (who I later discovered wrote me a fairly negative letter of recommendation--thanks GT!) made a delicious soup from the Vegetarian Epicure. The secret, he said, was the nutritional yeast Anna Thomas called for

I couldn't find my old copy, but I found the recipe online. As expected too goopy (flour???) with various things I didn't have.

Here's what I did: threw some frozen caramelized onions (I do this in the crock pot every few months) in the pot with 2 peeled and chopped potatoes. Put in a little of that nutritional yeast. Then covered with water. Simmered for a while. Mashed everything up when done and added salt, some milk, and a can of drained corn. Served with extra sharp cheddar. Oh, and I stirred in a bit of butter, a trick I learned from the great Marcella Hazan.

Soooo good. I hadn't made this vegetarian version in years, having gone over to Ina Garten's with bacon and chicken stock. Hers is even more goopy. I think I am going to return to the simpler vegetarian version. The nutritional yeast has a definite umami effect. We use it on popcorn (a friend calls it hippie dust). You can get it at Whole Foods. Or leave it out, of course.

It's amazing how good a stock potatoes and onions produce. This soup is so cheap to make that it will offset the cost of my dental treatment, at least if I eat it once a week for the next--oh--thirty years.

Is there anyone of a certain age who doesn't have this cookbook somewhere? A mere glance at the cover triggers a wave of nostalgia. Do you still cook anything from it? 

Do Medical Providers--DENTISTS, ORAL SURGEONS, in particular--give kickbacks for recommendations?

This is a question I have long pondered, given my issues with dental providers of all stripes. Wondering if there is a gifting or other system in exchange for recommendations and referrals.

If anyone knows, please let me know. I am wondering what weight to give to recommendations...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Paula's Serums and AHA BHA Exfoliants 20% off w/ free shipping

I know it's weird, given my pathological frugality and skepticism over advertising claims, but this is an exciting sale for me. Miss Em and I adore Paula's Choice skincare, for info AND for products. And it's not even that cheap. Miss Em and I both use the serums and the exfoliants. These are--in our opinion--Paula's best products.

Paula's BEST SALE is 20% off everything with free shipping on any size order, but this is pretty close. 20% off on serums and exfoliants and free shipping on any order (usually free over $50). She has some other items on sale also at the moment.

The CODE for this particular sale is EDDSERUMS14. This weekend only.
If you haven't shopped with Paula before and would like to use my link, you get $10 off and I get $10 too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unexpected Savings: Car Insurance

I live in a high insurance state. I'm not sure why, but family members in other states pay substantially less than we do.

The high cost of insurance has kept us from springing for a new car. Well, that and pathological frugality. And Mr FS's desire to have the totaled 1998 Camry live to be 20. Oh well.

The somewhat scuzzy rep who tried (?) to tack on the $695 Accessories Fee the other day also mentioned that the safety features of the new Accord would lower the insurance rates. To wit: the camera that shows what is BEHIND you as you back up. He was right.

Our insurance was $460 (or $406? can't remember) for 6 months! That's half of what we expected it to be.

Something to think about when choosing between new or used. Let's hope this car makes it to 20 years....and does not come into the path of a speeder who was driving without license or proof of insurance. And sped away after showing a state ID.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Avocado Quest

Frugal Son and I both love to scan grocery ads. In fact, he sometimes gets annoyed when I send him a list of bargains, thereby depriving him of the pleasure of discovering them for himself (isn't that a continual problem for parents?? Doing too much for the kid? See below. I did it again).

Last week, I spotted a great sale at Savalot, a little discount grocery that does not have an outlet in my town. That doesn't stop me from looking. I noted that the New Orleans stores had a three day sale (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) that included avocados for 50 cents and grapes for 89 cents.

I alerted Frugal Son, for whom a trip to Savalot is a bit of a schlep, especially since he gets around by bike.

Emergency email Sunday morning! Frugal Son says he can't find the avocados in the ad!!! Oh no!!! They changed the ad! I told him I was sure it was till Sunday and--mom-like,  for my little guy--called Savalot to ask. Of course, no one answered the phone.

Frugal Son was unsure what to do. Later, I sent him this email:

How was the avocado quest?

This morning came the laconic reply:

Got a few. Only 30.

Newsflash: According to the experts, you can freeze avocados. The texture is compromised, but they are still ok for guacamole.

Image from Tate Gallery.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti ‘The Damsel of Sanct Grael’, 1857

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Buying a Car: Do You Still Have to Beware of Tricky Salespeople?

Last time we bought a car (2002?), we actually purchased something from Consumer Reports which gave you "behind the sticker price" info and suggested target prices. I think the info cost $30 and this was a big improvement over previous modes of negotiation.

Now, there is a lot more transparency and everything is pretty much free on the internet. In fact, Mr FS emailed a bunch of dealers with info about what we wanted and waited for offers to come in. Eventually, he got the price we wanted at the local dealer; the salesperson was a friend of a friend, so all was good.

When we got to the dealership to pay up, our guy David was "busy" so we had a substitute for the preliminary paperwork. He brought a contract for signature and Mr FS noticed that, while the price was the one we had negotiated, there was also a $695 "Accessory Charge." He pointed out to substitute sales guy that David had waived that fee. "Oh, so sorry. I'll fix it."

Question: Was the substitute salesman a ruse whereby such a "mistake" would we made and--perhaps--not noticed by the tired customer? Would David himself have "forgotten" that he had waived the fee and included it on the contract?

Thank heavens Mr FS kept his wits about him and was paying attention.

Interestingly, we got a 2014 Honda Accord for $1000 over the cost of our beloved 1998 Camry. Pretty amazing.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

We're buying a car today!

Miss Em said "Does it bother you to buy a car?" That is because she knows I sometimes balk at the most minor expenses if they seem "overpriced." The great Amy Dazycyn of the Tightwad books had similar issues.

She had an essay about how she balked at tuna if it was more than 69 cents but had no trouble buying a beautiful and expensive antique bed. It was a question of value, not cost.

I'm the same with tuna. I'm pretty serene about the car--a Honda Accord--because our totaled Camry was about to turn 16 and our "new car"--the Civic Hybrid--is about to be 12. We were hoping the Camry would hit 20, but a bad man with no license or license plate plowed into poor Frugal Son and left the scene. He gave us a copy of a state ID.

We are hoping the new car will last more than 10 years. Thank heavens we  saved for the car.

Frugality as stress relief once more. Thank heavens for the emergency fund. So I told Miss Em that no, I'm not stressed. I continue my search for a good price on tuna.

I think we are getting a white one (ugh) because Mr FS read that white is the safest color.

Honda Accord
'13 Honda Accord Sedan.JPG

Friday, August 15, 2014

OK: I take it back about the friction

Did I set the forces of bad karma in motion? A mere few hours after penning my post in praise of friction, I set off for some R and R at the food bank thrift store. I figured that the spa experience of thrift shopping would help me gird up my loins for the final misery of taxes: figuring capital gains and rental losses.

Off I went. A little light came on. Then it went off. Then I couldn't steer. WHAT????

Luckily, I was near my destination, but it was difficult as I have extremely weak arms.

OF COURSE, we only have one car at the moment, since Frugal Son was hit by a bad man without a license who left the scene.
OF COURSE, I didn't have a phone.
AND OF COURSE, Mr FS seldom answers the phone anyway, since he works outside with earphones.

The karmic forces weren't totally against me. Nice Mr Pat let me use his phone at the store. Mr FS answered (a miracle!) and he rode his bike over. The power steering resumed its work.

Now we have to take our single car to the shop. They don't have loaners but will rent to us for $30/day. Seems to be an electrical problem.

I take it back about the joys of friction. I hit a few snags on the tax form (and I am an educated person who is not afraid of numbers...erghh).

Next day.....

UPDATES. I awoke at 6 ready to finish the taxes. The following took my attention till 4. That's 10 hours.

OF COURSE the electrical problem didn't manifest itself at the Honda place.
OF COURSE, we have to buy another car since I refuse to drive the Honda (we were planning to replace the totaled one anyway).
OF COURSE, I made a $10 arithmetical error on my taxes,which would have necessitated doing it all over again. I ignored it (the IRS always corrects my mistakes. Please don't audit me. It's always an accident.)
OF COURSE, the printer messed up while I was trying to print out a form.
OF COURSE, State Farm lost the records of something we paid for so I had to help MR FS find it by scouring all credit card records and checkbooks.

Plus some other stuff I can't remember at the moment. My beloved burritos didn't help. No, I had to eat pot stickers and pierogi.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Frugality as Stress Relief

Learning to be frugal has been a tremendous source of stress relief. As a poor grad student, I learned how to make bean burritos to make the newly-beloved Mr FS (a Californian) happy. I guess I would have served him  Julia Child's Veal Prince Orloff if he had desired it. I actually knew someone (with a trust fund) who attempted this iconic--time-consuming and expensive-- dish.

It was just by chance that his most beloved dish was about the most frugal meal we could have. We didn't quite understand that all our high-living friends were taking out loans to supplement our meager stipends, but were glad we were staying on budget.

Even now--when I am frugal by choice--I find that frugality provides a leavening to the various slings and arrows that come our way.

I always like to get the Wednesday paper, because it has the new food ads. Talk about simple pleasures! (And I share the pleasures with Frugal Son and Miss Em's pal, Mr C, as we email our thrilling finds.)

Today, I learned that a Dollar General Market has opened in my area. A new store! Always good for the consumer. I discovered that they will have incredible prices on avocados, mangos (50 cents each) and grapes (95 cents).

I was beaming with happiness and looking forward to having the nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market price match the loss leaders (hate Walmart, but I only use for price-matching and prescriptions. Except for my old student Lacey, the Walgreens pharmacy team is hateful and rude. At Walmart, the pharmacy lady says "Hi, honey. How was your vacation?")

As I was basking in the joy of produce, I opened my email and found a missive from Frugal Son: part of the ac came loose; water was condensing on the wall. EtcEtc. Mr FS agreed with Frugal Son's quick fix and we will investigate later in the week.

It seems that I can only control the little things (like my grocery bills). The big things--and we are approaching the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina--seem to appear without warning. It may seem strange to find comfort in 50 cent avocados when we have to deal with gigantic expenses, but, well, there we are.

P.S. RIGHT AFTER I completed this, another gigantic emergency expense reared its ugly head. Stay tuned. In the meantime, bon appetit.

Close-up picture of foliage and avocado fruit

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mr FS says: Life is friction

That's one of the things he says when I mention retirement. He says we need to keep some friction in our lives. One source of friction: students! We are always helping them deal with problems little and big. You can have a great syllabus and a prepped class....but nothing ever goes exactly as planned.

He's right though. We've seen many retirees--some in our own families--dealing with boredom, the result of eliminating certain kinds of friction.

My latest bout of friction is a result of doing my taxes (on extension) over the last week. Taxes are pretty easy, unless you have 1. a tiny amount of self-employment income 2. some investment income from old investments that you would not buy again but which are too complicated to unload and 3. rental property.

Each year I--lover of numbers--discover that in the friction areas numbers are not necessarily exact. You make loads of small, potentially questionable decisions. It doesn't add up to much, but it is stressful.

I am almost done and pretty proud of myself because I have figured out how to do rental property! I read a book. Now I know what and how to depreciate!

It's not much good to tell me to get an accountant. I'd still have to get all the info together, which is the time-consuming part,  and every accountant I hear about makes terrible mistakes.

Doing my taxes is so stressful that I have spent the last week with the physical symptoms I recall from my other most stressful periods: finishing my thesis, applying for jobs, working for tenure. Really, if I had this feeling of sickness all year round, I WOULD have to retire.

I am thankful for these small bouts of stress. Thankful too that in my last years of work, the friction comes only intermittently and in discrete doses.

I took the book out of the library. I will be happy to return it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Will Somebody Please Remind Me

not to apply for an income tax extension this year.

Thank you.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Reality Show Opportunity: Not Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Backstory: We bought a house in New Orleans in Spring 2013, using a small inheritance from Mr FS's parents. The house is a rental, occupied by Frugal Son (in the tiny room with no closet) and two other fellows, one of whom does occasional work in the tv biz.

New Story: Roommate with occasional work in tv biz meets someone who does reality show featuring Amish carpenters. That someone's interest is piqued by three 20-something fellows with a big screened porch. They are thinking of building a bar on it.

Of course, I would prefer a bathroom remodel (the house needs it). Or how about....oh, zillions of things.

Frugal Son and his roomies seem a bit interested. They would hang out with the carpenters and that would be filmed too.

If an offer comes through, should Mr FS and I say OK if the fellows want to do it? Or are there a million unforeseen bad consequences I'm not thinking of?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Remember my cookbook?

Back again from our final trip of the summer to the beautiful Berkshires where I reconnected with childhood places and happy memories of my now-gone relatives from Vienna. I continued some of the questioning I began in the Balkans and got more specifics on the dangerous  journey undertaken by my grandparents, mother, and others as they escaped Vienna in the late 1930s. Truly, my very existence is a miracle.

I may depart from my blog's original purpose--to spread the gospel of frugality--and turn to more personal matters as I attempt to wrest information from the very few surviving relatives--who themselves remember very little and were greeted with silence about those terrible times.

For the moment though, I am back to frugality. After all, if we weren't frugal we couldn't go to the Balkans to ask questions of Ildi, my mother's cousin's widow. Since I am interested in a return visit, I am once again checking the food ads and making lists of necessary items to search for in thrift stores.

And it is time to make yet another pitch for the cookbook Frugal Son and i put together from Miss Em a few years ago, when she went off with a scholarship that provided a dorm room but not a board card. How to cook with limited resources, no car, a small fridge, and NO STOVE?

Thus was born our little cookbook. I have not really made an effort to market it, but copies sell now and again. And now--after all these years--a review! A good one!

Seriously, get your college student a rice cooker (very cheap), some rice (ditto) and a few other things. This will be a much-appreciated gift. I and my post-college kids (and their friends) use the book all the time. Not just for the stove-free.

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5.0 out of 5 stars This book is great! I was on a trip with a fridge ... July 10, 2014
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This book is great! I was on a trip with a fridge available for use. Needed a cheap option for cooking meals, so I searched the Kindle Store and found this book. After reading I picked up a rice cooker and made a few of these recipes. I haven't tried them all yet, but I plan to, and I did enjoy the ones I made. This is an excellent cookbook for dorm, hotel room, and at home cooking.