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So bad… but so good!

13 Sep


I’m a great wife because I cook for my husband.  I’m not so great because dinner hits the table around 10:30pm.  Points for effort?

I know this isn’t when I normally talk about my attempts at frugality, but it coincides so nicely this weekend with my attempts in the kitchen that I really can’t avoid the subject.  I saw a commercial on Sunday morning that Pahl’s Market has a fresh vegetable stand inside their garden center.  We decided to check it out on the way home from church, and scored all of this…

…for $3.87!  I used a poblano and the tomato in a breakfast scramble thing with the leftover chorizo from last week’s bake and one of the limes in a couple of gin & tonics.  The tomato was juicy and red.  The poblano was actually spicy.  That never happens!  The limes were sweet, which was strange but amazing.  The big beige blob you see is a spaghetti squash.  It’s something I’ve been meaning to try for a couple years, but either I never notice them or they aren’t available at all stores.  A good friend of mine grew up on the stuff and has good childhood memories of it.  Plus, we figured this meal cost us five or six bucks, and could have really been 3 or 4 servings, not just 2.

I thought I’d keep it simple for my first rodeo and just make a tomato sauce to go with it.  The husband was SO impressed with the low low prices that he was willing to race back to Pahl’s before closing time last night so that I could get some more tomatoes, a head of garlic, and an onion for said sauce.  I got home with my killing and got to work.

A trick: score the bottom of the tomatoes with an “X” and place them in a collander in the sink.  Heat water in a kettle to boiling and pour it over the tomatoes.  Cool them with cold water from the tap, and then peel them.  The skins come right off!  No bad words necessary!
I chopped half of the onion and smashed a couple cloves of garlic, and set them to saute them in my best olive oil.  Then I got to work on the squash… easier said than done.  Several knives were discarded in the process, but this little guy was the winner.  I could make a nimble fist, jam him into the skin, and work it slowly around the diameter.  I’ve read a few recipes that say you can bake the squash whole, and THEN cut it open.  Next time.  I scooped the seeds out, oiled it up, and baked it cut-side down on some foil.  I think about 375F for 30-40 minutes should do it.

While the squash was baking, I got to work on my sauce.  I hacked the skinned tomatoes into chunks with my awesome kitchen shears, threw in a couple of bay leaves, and let it go for about half an hour.  After it was nice and simmery, I just used my wooden spoon to smush the tomatoes into a nice pomodoro.  A little salt and pepper and some dried basil, and I was done.  The squash came out of the oven and in went some ripped up hunks of sourdough also left over from last week’s breakfast bake, coated with olive oil and Penzey’s life-altering Shallot Salt.

I “fluffed” the squash with a fork, kind of like you do with rice, to separate the strands.  Each half more than filled a pasta bowl, and I topped it with the sauce.  The sauce turned out to taste exactly like the sauce my mom always made when I was a kid.  I always hated it.  I wanted Spaghetti-Os.  I wanted Stouffer’s Lasagna.  I did NOT want FRESH VEGETABLES.  Times have changed.  I want fresh vegetables, and I want to live on this squash and sauce and shallot hunk combo forever.

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Plan Schman

8 Sep

I think I’ve mentioned before that my husband is a planner.  I, on the other hand, am not.  I think it stems from my inability to make a decision.

These are at once strengths and weaknesses.  Take this weekend… we have options!
There’s a BBQ shindig at an old college friend’s place.  We’d know a few people, but it’s definitely a drop-in party.
There’s a loose plan to do somethingorother with a couple we wish we spent more time with.  We need to refinish our deck (more on THAT later).
I’d like to get a little shopping in… yes, I know this is my “Thrifty Thursday” post, but it’s definitely autumn around here, and I neeeeeed some scarves.
I’d also like to have a little time to just sit and read, as the next book club meeting is in ten days and I’m pretty far from my goal of finishing two books between meetings.  I aim high, don’t I…

To him, this means that we’ll do all of these things.

To me, this means we might stop by that party, or we might be too tired.  Or we might decide that it’d be better to get a start on refinishing the deck, and have ourselves a good powerwash.
We’ll probably hang out with that couple we like so much, but it’s hard to say when or where, because it’s only Thursday!
I’m sure we’ll end up at the mall, but if it’s nice weather, then maybe not.  Who wants to waste a sunny day inside?
And, as usual, my quiet reading time will probably take the back seat on the weekend bus.

For the most part, we’ve settled into managing our time my way.  Just the other day, he even changed The Plan in the middle of the afternoon.  I was completely thrown!  And more than a little bit proud.

But the money, we do that his way.  This is where his “The Plan” thing pays off.  We’ve made some good progress on our financial goals so far this year.  So motivating!  As we round out 2011 (did I mention it’s scarf-and-boot season?), we want to stay on that track, plus we’ve set a little savings goal.  With a goal, it’s so much easier to make those in-the-moment decisions.  Buy what’s on sale!  Skip the appetizer and dessert!  Drink at home!

Nothing!  That’s what!

I find it easier to set goals if I can attach them to a gizmo.  Someone told me recently that people who shop for a project but never FINISH the project are really in love with the creative process.  Fine.  I looked at Smarty Pig and loved their pink and green site, but didn’t necessarily love that it allowed me to solicit for “donations” through social media.  But if you’re into that, I guess it’s a neat feature.  They are literally a piggy bank, and allow you to dump out in the form of gift cards, debit cards, or ACH transfer.  There are some free-money bonuses for redeeming gift cards through their partners, so that’s neat.  But it involves opening a new bank account, and that’s more hassle than I’m willing to endure.

Mint.com is a little more my style.  Not visually, their site design does nothing for me – that whole pig thing is too cute.  But they’re more of a chalkboard of what’s happening in all your accounts.  They just pull the information from your various financial institutions so that you can see your debts, savings, investments, and spending patterns laid out all pretty.  They call this a “read-only” service, which is also a security measure.  If you can’t move your money around through Mint.com, neither can anyone else.

The winner!  Check it out and see what you think!

 

 

Weekbeginning

22 Aug


I have a strange “weekend” setup.  Usually it starts around 5 on Saturday, and ends with work on Tuesday morning.  The Saturday night bit feels like a weekend, but the rest of it feels like a weekbeginning, filled with preparations for my upcoming workweek.  Sometimes that means cooking, sometimes it means cleaning, and it always means laundry.  Usually I try to squeeze in a new recipe or thing I haven’t tried before, like learning to crochet or fixing something.

This weekend/beginning is different.  My normal schedule has been condensed into 1.3 days, which has a strange effect on me.  Something like… I have nothing to do!  I guess I didn’t completely slack off.  First, I discovered that I’m pretty great at grilling big juicy steaks.  A friend told me about a rub he makes that gave me a much simpler idea… on one of my steaks, I did a pretty good seasoning of salt and pepper, and then sprinkled some granulated sugar and a little cayenne pepper.  Amazing hot caramely sweet crust.

Next was the final shift of our amazing garage sale.  I got off to a Very Early Start this morning, even though our first customer didn’t show up for a few hours.

I popped my weekly breakfast egg bake into the oven when I got there, had some coffee, and the day began.  After all was said and done, the gang brought in over $500!  An episode worth repeating, I think.  We saw some interesting characters, got rid of almost enough junk, and made a little cash.  The only downer?  The lady who walked away with some of my junk without paying for it.  Wouldn’t have bothered me so much if it hadn’t been set aside with some things that another customer wanted to actually PAY for.

After I got home with my compact carload of ugly Christmas plates and mugs (had two carloads at the beginning!), I threw in some laundry and decided my time would be best spent lying in the grass and making a little progress on The Help.

I thought our glasses looked like they were on an adventure.
I nearly got to take a nap in the sun, but Someone decided he was hungry.  We thought we could treat ourselves a little as we’d made a killing selling our junk to people who collect junk, and got rid of lots of junk in the process.  Plus, the great part about a 1.3 day weekend is that you don’t have much time to accidentally spend money you don’t need to spend.  We thought we’d walk to a “nearby” establishment for some supper, promising each other we would aim towards the cheaper items on the menu.  I say “nearby” because when you live as far from civilization as we do, every establishment you walk past is an entire block.  Home Depot, Best Buy, etc.  We walked just under 3 miles to a seafood restaurant (in MN) where we discovered that it was a little overpriced, but also industry night, and they counted us among the working folk.  Also, everything had a bit of a southern/bayou twist, so we got to douse it all in hot sauce and Cajun seasoning!  So our $32 bill became $16 and we left stuffed.  Score!

I didn’t have much time for culinary adventures or creativity, and I’m not really optimistic about finding time for that in the next several days.  But I’m beginning this week with clean laundry and a little cash in my pocket.  I can’t move my legs right now because of my 6-mile trek to dinner, but we can’t have everything, can we.

The Opposite of Shopping

18 Aug


We’re having a garage sale.  No, not a two-for-one on garages, but a smorgasbord of discards.  There will be treasures ranging from absolute junk to stuff I just don’t need or use anymore.  Or ever.  It gets better… it’s not just my junk, but the junk of 3 other households as well!  The next few days will determine whether this is the best or the worst idea ever born of this group of ladies.  And it’s got competition in both directions, so it’s going to be a close race.

Donation is the way we usually get rid of stuff around here, but did you know that Goodwill won’t accept Christmas items in the summer?  When on earth do you think I go through my Christmas stuff??  So it’s important that these items sell this weekend.  It is not important that I take home a great profit (except on my vintage historical stereo with detachable speakers and double tape deck), it’s important that I NOT take home any Christmas stuff.  So, garage sale it is!

This forces me to look at my stuff and ask myself if I want to move it again.  There’s no telling how far the next move might be, so it’s an important question.  That cookie sheet?  Definitely not.  Not moving that guy again, he doesn’t pull his weight.  Cookies and frozen pizzas just stick, and stick, and stick.  But the stereo with detachable speakers – yes, detachable speakers! – that I bought in 9th grade?  With my own money, mind you.  VERY industrious at 14.  I flamed out early.  I’ll put that stereo in the sale pile.  But I’m definitely pricing it out of range so that I can continue to move it from house to house.  This way, though, he thinks I tried my best to get rid of it and it just wouldn’t sell.  It’s vintage!  A piece of history!  I’m sure you understand.

The trick will be to resist taking my fistful of cash (or pennies) and reinvesting it.  Garage sales are their own circle of life.  You buy something at a garage sale, and ultimately end up selling it at a garage sale.  You take the money handed to you in exchange for that item, and rush out to “reinvest” it in someone else’s vintage electronics.  Or whatever your thing is.  My most recent treasure?  A vintage ash tray.  I don’t smoke.

Isn’t she lovely?

With my recent vow of thriftiness, the idea here is to take my profits and invest them in an actual bank.  No shopping.  I’m pretty sure I can do it unless I run across new lampshades for my kitchen chandelier or a sewing machine that I just cannot pass up.  I’m sure you understand.  To help me stick to it, I’m counting this as a “revenue stream.”  Someone told me once that a household should have several revenue streams – ideally, 7 of them.  Did you know that?  Me either.  It’s interesting to think about, though, and I think it can’t be bad to shoot for.  We each have a job: check, check.  I think investments count: check…?  Once or twice a year, I sell some junk or some craftiness: check.  Still need three more streams, but I’m not sure I can be bothered about that just yet.  Someday, friends, enough people will read these ramblings that this very page could be a revenue stream… okay, maybe not.

When you’re cruising the sidewalks this weekend, snapping up other peoples’ junk (it’s probably an antique!  they don’t even know its value!), bid persistently.  Don’t let those ladies emotionally overprice their items out of purchaseland.  That’s their revenue stream and it’s our responsibility to make sure they end the day with cash, not a failed trip to Goodwill.  Go forth and garage sale!

Trailer Trash Supper

16 Aug


Dinner is served!

The husband named this post.  I finally made beer can chicken (he says “beer butt” is more fun to say), after having bought the stand/can holder, oh, 8 years ago), and then Saltine Cracker Toffee by The Girl Who Ate Everything, after I had to look at it on the blog of my pal at Riot & Frolic.

I used this recipe for Beer Can Chicken as my guideline recipe.  I tend not to “use recipes,” but rather follow principles (the chicken goes on a medium-high grill for 1 hour, 15 minutes) and wing it (heh, get it?  chicken?) on the rest.  My adventure started today at Lund’s where I found two, count them, two chickens in the meat case.  Both organic (good), both about $22 (holy cow).  Did everyone else know that a chicken costs so much?  This store is the home of the Five Buck Cluck, which gets you an entire chicken for five dollars.  So when I save them the trouble of preparing it, I pay 400 percent?  Sure.  So, after much deliberating (bickering) in the aisle – and the nice grocery man asking if he could help… – N decided that “beer butt chicken” was still really fun to say, even if it meant spending half a paycheck on the ingredients.

The only canned beer in our fridge?  Coors Light.  Don’t judge, we had a party last weekend and it was left behind.  Some people like it, and I was raised on Busch Light, so I guess I can’t really comment.  I took as many “gulps” as I could manage, per the recipe’s instructions, and then passed it off to the Man to take care of the rest.  This is not tasty beer, people.

I rinsed and patted dry my chicken, greased him up, and dusted him with salt, pepper, and my own special dry rub: BBQ seasoning, ancho chili powder, smoked Spanish paprika, shallot salt (think: garlic salt, only more amazing), and cayenne pepper.  I did not measure, just mixed until it smelled right.
I layered the stand, the beer can, and then the chicken, and put the whole assembly onto the grill.  Note: remove the upper racks first.

While he hung out in his personal sauna, we went through our VHS (I know) collection with a fine-toothed comb.  We’re down to a one-bookshelf stock.  This is in prep for our multi-family garage sale this weekend, and in keeping with our Trailer Trash theme.  I’m thinking a quarter for each movie, or five for a buck.  Come on down!

When Foghorn Leghorn was ready, I took him off the heat and started dessert.  Two sticks of butter, a cup of brown sugar, and a layer of saltines (they are topped with sea salt, now!).  Boil the butter and brown sugar for 3 minutes, pour over the saltines, and bake at 400 degrees for 6 minutes.

The recipe says that when you pull them out, you can just top them with chocolate chips and they will melt.  Notsomuch.  So I put them back in the oven to soften a little more, and finally just smeared them around with a spatula.  The Girl says that when they’re done, they’ll look like this:


They do not.  But if they taste even CLOSE to that picture, I win.

In conclusion… the chicken was the best I’ve ever had.  It was easy, and so tender it was falling off the bone.  Literally.  N picked up a chicken leg, and all the meat fell off, leaving him holding the bone.  The toffee?  Unreal.  It reminds me of something my mom and I used to make, which I will post another day.  Next time I’m pretty sure I’ll add a layer of peanut butter chips, and then the chocolate.  Yes.

Finally, the backdrop to our redneck evening: season one of The Dukes of Hazzard.  What can I say?  We’re into themes.

I Have Needs

11 Aug

Am I really the only one who feels totally overcaffeinated when the IKEA catalog shows up in July?  How about Restoration Hardware?  Or even just little ol’ Crate & Barrel?  I find it hard to believe that I’m alone here.  When he asks why I bother dog-earing the pages, I tell him that I’m just “getting ideas” for things like… paint color?  How to arrange the furniture, maybe?  I’ve never actually looked for these things in a yummy new catalog.  I’m sure I could get these ideas from the great staging they do, but what I actually see is gorgeous furniture that I need.  Wait, want.  I get those two mixed up a lot…  To understand how much I truly do not need furniture, you should know that until a few weeks ago, we owned five sofas.  Five.  This does not count upholstered chairs, of which we have at least that many.  I think I’ve mentioned that it’s a big, uncleanable house.  Holds a lot of sofas.  Davenports, if you prefer.

When we were cleaning up after our big shindig this weekend, we were looking around the house with a little bit of a critical eye, and he was telling me a few of the features he “hates” about the place.  We got on the subject of ceiling fans and other fixtures.  I have mixed feelings about ceiling fans.  I think they’re not the most beautiful design element available, but I love the option of moving the air around via something other than my expensive-to-run and highly-inefficient air conditioner.  There are two in the house, and sometimes we run them even though they’re in rooms we never use.  It’s our theory that the air circulates beyond those little rooms… but who knows.  We’re contemplating replacing one of the builder-standard gaudy “chandeliers” in the main room with a ceiling fan, but it is my opinion that it should be a non-hideous one, or it’s not really worth it.  Read: expensive.  That was pretty much immediately pointed out to me, but I quickly moved on to the next idea I had.  Take the gaudy “chandelier” in the kitchen and paint it red.  The question is whether I could swap out the glass “shades” for something that would be a little less 2001.
I saw this on Shabbie Chic Home‘s Etsy site and realized I might be able to make something cool…

And how cool would it be to have mason jar shades?  Okay, maybe a little much on an entire chandelier.  But I like the idea!  And cool of BootsNGus to recycle vintage jars this way.  I love that they tell me it will remind me of catching fireflies as a kid.  Agh!  Suckered again.

I don’t tend to rush out and buy housewares.  My bigger impulse issue is clothing, as my job is fashion conscious and it’s easy to justify.  I neeeed this dress.  Wait, is that justifying or whining?  Either way.  And maybe there’s a little truth my claim that the wardrobe needs constant updating, but I can still shop the closet.  I can turn wide leg pants into skinnies.  I can take that dumpy old jacket and have it cropped and tailored.  That’s usually cheaper than a new outfit!  And I can paint the things in my house that are ugly until they are bearable.  I have a hunch that the busy-ness epidemic and the consumption epidemic are close cousins.  I’ll be trying to consume less without adjusting my schedule at all.  Stay tuned, this could get interesting.

The Gang’s All Here

8 Aug


Another success!  We had a great mix of folks over to our house yesterday for some amazing food and all around good times.  At times like these, it really pays to be friends with so many foodies/pastry chefs.

Aside from the opportunity to do something nice for people we love, the best reason to have a party is so that the house gets “cleaned.”  By “cleaned,” I mean the area of the house intended to be seen.  So, for those of you who went upstairs or downstairs for any reason, I apologize for whatever you may have seen or stepped in.

Saturday night involved a little stopover at a friend’s BBQ, some tacos, and a final trip to the store.  Then came home to whip up my famous (according to me) caramelized onion dip and a salsa that sounded good in my head: pineapples, cilantro, habanero, etc.  I had been warned about the habanero part, so I decided to save it for last.  I gave the onions a rough chop in the food processor, then went to work on the pineapple.

I tried doing the pineapple in the food processor, also, but it came out… frothy?  Like a pina colada.  Which made me wish I had some rum, not some tortilla chips.  So I decided to chop the rest up with a knife.  Enter some cilantro and red bell pepper and I was ready to approch Mr. H.  Here he is, double-bagged, and then being severed by a masked bandit.
I didn’t have any gloves, and I read something about how the oils on these suckers can burn your skin.  Forget rubbing your eyes!  So I thought I just wouldn’t take any chances and popped some Ziploc baggies on my mits.  And yes, that is my husbands Miller High Life t-shirt.  No, you can’t have it.  Some taste testing was necessary once it was done, and Husband thought it needed jalapeno Tabasco, so we tossed some of that in there, squeezed a little lime, and let it fridge overnight.  It tasted even better the next day, and got pretty good reviews!  Another recipe: invented.  We’re changing lives, people.

The highlights were the cheesecake with blueberry sauce, the blueberry pie still warm from the oven (I know), the guacamole, and the chocolate muffins with peanut butter frosting and sugared bacon.  Frisbees were caught in trees, marshmallows were intended for projectile use only, and a good time was had by me.

The evidence has all been hidden, and since the vacuum is still out of the closet, I may even make today THE DAY that the other floors of the house are introduced to it.  But no promises.  And lastly, may I recommend to you all, if you want to have a Sunday bash, don’t work on Monday.  It’s my new favorite day of the week.