Friday, July 24, 2009

What is "London Broil," Exactly??? S&S and Shaw's, week of 7/24-7/30

Stop and Shop and Shaw's have this symbiotic relationship (or maybe they're just trying to compete with each other) where they often have the exact same stuff on sale, especially meats. This is one of those weeks. Both flyers feature something called "London Broil" on the top of the front page, so I decided to do a combined post for both stores. Stop and Shop is 1.79/lb, and Shaw's is 1.99/lb. Both good prices, but if you have the choice, of course, head over to Stop and Shop. But the question in my mind is, what on earth is London Broil? As I mentioned before, as a bargain grocery shopper I have made it my business to try all kinds of different forms of meat when they are on sale. So, I did some research about this so-called "London Broil."

First of all, I learned that London Broil is not a specific cut of beef- it is a cooking method for meat that would be otherwise tough. Basically the meat is marinated, you can broil it or grill it until it is medium rare (cook it any more and it will be too tough) and then you slice it across the grain at a 45 degree angle.

So I noticed that Stop and Shop is selling "Top Round" as London Broil, and Shaw's is selling "Shoulder Steak"- both different cuts of meat. Both come from the front of the animal, so they get lots of work when he is walking around- therefore they're pretty lean and have to be cooked carefully to be tasty. I found this handy-dandy chart that is really helpful- it shows all the different cuts of meat and explains how to cook them.

I'm not too keen on the London Broil idea... my husband and I both prefer our meat cooked a bit more than medium rare. So I wanted to know what other ways will work with these cuts of meat. It sounds like it is good for:

  • slicing thinly and marinating- to use in stir-frys, fajitas, salads, etc. The key is to cook quickly over high heat.
  • Some people suggest grinding it yourself, to make a lean ground beef. Or cut into cubes for chili.
  • If you aren't going to cook it hot and fast, you need to cook it slowly... preferably in a slow cooker. It sounds like it is tasty in the crockpot- just throw it in with some vegetables, some form of liquid, and set on low all day.
  • A burrito filling- put the meat in the crockpot with taco seasonings, a can of chiles, a can of tomatoes and a diced onion- cook on low all day- the meat should be easy to shred when it is cooked.
  • You can also cut it up and cook it in a crockpot soup.
If you decide to grill the London Broil this week (I might even try it- I might try cooking it a little longer than suggested, and if I don't like it, I can put it in the slow cooker,) you definitely have to marinate it. You do not need to buy anything at the store to marinate your meat! There is plenty of stuff at your house that you can use. I always mix up a random marinade from things I have around the house... some suggestions of things you can use-
  • a little bit of oil wouldn't hurt, especially a lean cut of meat
  • any salad dressing
  • vinegars
  • wine or beer or cola
  • condiments- ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce
  • juice- apple is great with pork, orange is great with teriyaki and ginger
  • soy sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, hot sauce...
  • herbs and spices
Obviously, don't mix all of these things together or it will be gross- but you can play around and experiment with flavors that you know you and your family like. Make sure you cut the meat into meal-sized portions and freeze the rest- you don't save money if you cook 3 pounds of meat for a family of 4.

If you're shopping at Stop and Shop, you can pick up some elbow macaroni (Stop and Shop Pasta is .75 a box) and make a pasta salad. For pasta salad, I generally cook 1/2 the box of pasta and then add whatever vegetables I have handy (peppers, carrots, celery, tomatoes all work well.) Then you can mix it up with some salad dressing (ranch or Italian work well- Ken's Dressing is $2.00 a bottle if you don't have any at home) and maybe a little bit of mayo, and season with pepper and salt to taste. If you have cheese, nuts, leftover bacon, olives, etc., all of those things would be tasty additions. If that's too complicated or you're in a hurry, you can pick up a box of Suddenly Salad for 1.50 a box and let Betty Crocker take care of the pasta salad-making for you. There isn't much on sale for fresh vegetables this week- if you don't have anything at home, Green Giant Canned Vegetables are $1 a can (I bet the S&S brand is cheaper than that, though.) Also, Romaine hearts are 2.50 for a bag of 3, and I find those go a long way- I can get a whole week's worth of salads out of 3 Romaine hearts.

If you go to Shaw's, you can get corn for .33 an ear, which isn't great but isn't awful. And the Fresh Express Complete Salads are B1G1 free- there was a printable coupon out a couple weeks ago that would make this a great deal but I can't locate it now- if you printed it out, you have some close-to-free salad! If you need to pick up a starchy side, the Shopper's Value White Rice in a 20 lb. bag is 9.99, which is about .50 a pound, and should go a very long way. (Alas, I try as much as possible to use brown rice- I wish they had that in a 20 lb. bag on sale!) An easy rice side: cook the rice according to package directions, and then dump in a can of whatever non- condensed soup you have around and heat it through (drain off any extra liquid if it's too runny). We have so much soup that we've picked up on sale- that's an easy way to use it up.

Happy Shopping!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Sad Little Garden

Every year I try to grow things in my garden, with mixed results. Last year, we had a massive zucchini plant that went halfway across the yard. My husband had to mow around it for months. We were so excited about all the great zucchini we were going to get. Finally, it produced... one... a single zucchini, the size and shape of a watermelon. We managed to cook it, but it was a little weird having slices the size of a small dinner plate. The only other things that grew were some beans (we got a handful of beans at a time) and these things called lemon cucumbers, which grew on a vine and were pretty successful. Nothing really got going until the end of the summer, though...

I tried really hard with my garden this year. I started lots of seeds in March and April. My whole kitchen table was taken up with little seedlings for months. I don't know if they didn't get enough sun or what, because nothing really grew. :-(

So when it was time for planting (the weekend of Mother's Day, according to local gardening authorities), I planted pepper and tomato seedlings that I bought. I planted squash, cucumber, and beans directly in the ground. And then... I waited.

There wasn't any late frost or anything, but the weather never really seemed to warm up. And then, it rained, and rained, and rained. I guess in June the sun only came out 25% of the time. (July is a little better, but still very cool and rainy overall.) So my plants kind of just languished in the garden, not dying but not growing either.

My tomato plants are finally growing. The peppers don't seem any bigger but are producing some flowers.
The squash and cucumber plants are finally starting to grow.

I set up a little pyramid for my beans to grow on. Too bad, I forgot that I was growing bush beans, not pole beans. They don't need to grow on anything. They are growing some beans, and I harvested a whole handful yesterday. I cut them up and cooked them in my rice pilaf.

I had strawberry plants from last year. The squirrels and birds ate all of the strawberries before they had time to ripen. My husband jokes that I put a lot of effort into feeding the local wildlife. I planted blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries all around my property. So far, only the raspberries are producing fruit, but again, someone keeps eating them...

Well, I still have hope. I don't give up on my garden until the frost kills it. I really wish I was able to grow enough food so that we wouldn't need to buy produce during the summer, and also have enough to can and freeze. Well, with results like this... I guess I better keep wishing!

Nummy Banana Bread and/or Muffins

Yesterday, I was making bread, and I decided, since I am heating up the oven anyway, why not make something else? With some overripe bananas on the counter, and a couple more in the freezer, it seemed like a good time to make some banana bread.

The recipe I have been using for a while is here, but I made some significant tweaks (adding whole wheat flour, using yogurt instead of applesauce, adding spice, reducing sugar...) to it, so it's basically a new recipe. I also doubled it, so it makes 2 loaves or 24 muffins... or, what I ended up doing, one loaf and a batch of muffins.

Nummy Banana Bread/ Muffins

4 eggs
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 mashed bananas
1/2 cup yogurt (plain, vanilla, or banana)
2/3 cup milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1/4 cup stir-ins (optional- I used flax seeds... you could use raisins, chocolate chips, crushed nuts..)
1/2 cup granola cereal (for topping- also optional)

  1. For this recipe, the oven needs to be preheated to 325. I wait to preheat my oven until I am almost done prepping the recipe, because either I am a very slow baker or my oven heats up very quickly, but the oven is always ready before I am. Spray whatever pans you are using with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs for five minutes. They will be fluffy and creamy.
    Then add the bananas, yogurt, milk, oil, and vanilla, and beat them together thoroughly.
  3. In another large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices until well blended. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just blended. Add any extra ingredients and fold them in.
  4. Pour batter into pans. Top with granola if desired (I used Post Trail Mix Crunch cereal that I got for free at CVS a couple weeks ago.)
    Bake loaf for about 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean; muffins should be ready after 25-30 minutes. Take out of pans and allow to cool on a wire rack.
I thought the addition of the wheat flour and the reduction of the sugar was really successful- the texture was very similar to the original recipe and we didn't miss the sugar at all. The texture is different than most banana bread/muffins- it's a little lighter with a slightly crunchy crust. We all really liked this recipe, although my husband had no idea they were banana muffins- I think with the addition of spices, the banana flavor is sort of subtle. So if you really like a strong banana flavor, I would eliminate or reduce the cinnamon & nutmeg.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shopping with Pepper and Diva

My 2 daughters, "Pepper" (almost 9) and "Diva" (7) are only 19 months apart, but they are so very different! This became all too clear when I took each of them for a special shopping trip. They've been doing activities through the local Recreation Department for the past couple weeks (Diva did dance last week, and Pepper is doing soccer this week.) So it gave me a chance to spend some one-on-one time with each of them. They both had gift cards left over from birthdays and Christmas (!) so I thought it would be easier for each of them to spend her own gift card on her own without her sister complaining.


Pepper loves to read. Actually, that's a total understatement- that would be like saying "She loves to breathe." She reads three or four books at a time; she reads in the car- even at night, with a booklight on; she reads in bed until late at night, until I pry the book out of her hands and shut off the light. (At least, I hope she stops reading at that point.) She loves fantasy, horror, and mysteries. She's read the whole Harry Potter series multiple times and she's been begging me to let her read Twilight. (I've refused, so she's placated herself by reading more kid-friendly books about vampires. And wearing plastic vampire teeth, and painting her fingernails black. Did I mention she isn't even nine yet? )

I love to read too, and I've had to find frugal ways to keep myself in reading material. We're avid library users- we probably take out hundreds of books from the library each year, and I'm always requesting things via interlibrary loan. If there's something particular I want to read that I can't find via the library, I try to find a used copy, usually from or ebay. I very rarely buy a new book for myself in the bookstore. When I do browse in the bookstore, I usually take notes about what books look interesting and try to find a copy at the library. If I got even half of my reading material from the bookstore, reading would be a very, very expensive habit for me.

Pepper isn't overly thrilled with my frugal habits in this regard. She covets books. She insists there is nothing like owning a book for your very own, and smelling that new book smell. Even if she reads something at the library, she wants to get a copy for herself. She is forever cajoling her grandmother and me to take her to Borders and let her buy books. (Admittedly, I should be happy about this. She isn't cajoling me for an Ipod, new clothes, video games, a cell phone... But it is still a form of greediness that I am trying to teach her to overcome.) Fortunately, she got several gift cards to Barnes and Noble and Borders last Christmas, and we still had one left over.

When I told her we were going to the bookstore last Wednesday, I had a vision of us sitting side by side in comfy chairs, perusing whatever books we had found, quietly spending some quality mother-daughter time together. Maybe we'd even get a chai latte at the cafe for a treat. I've spent so much parenting energy in trying to keep her out of the bookstore, when in truth I really enjoy going there as well. I wanted to take the time to really enjoy being there with her, to share a love we both have in common.

Alas. She made a beeline for a table of bestsellers and promptly scooped up a stack of books. "These are the ones I want." She had the first 2 books from the Inkspell series and the third installment of a series called Vampirates. (Seriously. Vampires and Pirates?? Why didn't I think of that? Edward and Jack Sparrow... wait, this is a children's book..)

I looked them over, and pointed out that they added up to about $27.00, when her gift card was only for $20. "Also, they have the whole Inkspell series at the library. Why don't you just get it there? Or just read the first one and make sure you like it?" I also pointed out that she might want to read the first Vampirates book, instead of the third, since she had never read them before.

She refused any sort of commensensical suggestions that I had and insisted that these were the books that she had to have. The sales lady noticed her with her stack of books (they are all quite thick) and told her she needed to get herself a job to afford all her books. (Indeed.) So I told her that she would have to pay me back for whatever the gift card didn't cover, which she agreed to. (I also pointed out to her a quote by Erasmus on a tote bag, which I thought reflected her philosophy pretty well: "When I get a little money I buy books, and if any is left I buy food and clothes." I admit, I used to feel the same way.)

I'm sure she's enjoying her new books, and I will try again in the future to have mother/ daughter bonding time over books. I'm so glad she loves to read, I really, truly am, but I hope she can learn to be more content with less expensive ways of getting her reading material. She also loves to write, but if she ever starts her own blog I'm sure it won't be about frugal living!

Diva has more fashion sense in her little pinkie than I could ever hope to have in my entire life. I can't imagine what her teachers think of her at school, because I don't think she's worn the same outfit twice. She's the littlest in the extended family at the moment, so she's the beneficiary of everyone's hand-me-downs and she has ridiculous quantities of clothing. She manages to combine colors, prints, and accessories in such unexpected and tasteful ways, and she usually looks fantastic. (I have no idea where she gets it- I generally wear some form of jeans-and-a-T-shirt when I'm not working, and I grudgingly dress up a little bit more for work.)

Once, when Diva was a baby, she climbed out of her carriage in the J.C. Penney shoe department and threw herself at the girls' shoe display, squealing with glee. (I often cite this incident as a refutation of all those sociology arguments who say that gender traits aren't inborn but a product of the environment. How could a baby be this fixated on shoes, when her own mother wears the same flip-flops every day?) So she was thrilled when her uncle and auntie got her a Famous Footwear gift card for her birthday. We headed to the mall to pay them a visit this morning.

She has definitely inherited my eye for a bargain, and realized that the super-cute shoes that are $54.99 aren't as super-cute as the ones that are on clearance for $10. So although she tried on some expensive shoes, she decided she would rather find something cheaper and stretch her gift card further. Atta girl!

She tried on these boots.

I know it's hard to picture them on a seven year old, but they looked fabulous on her. And I knew she could wear them, no problem. (This girl could run in heels by the time she was two.) But they were $44.99, so we were just going to forget about them. But then we spied other boots, that were almost exactly the same, on sale for $26.99. Now we're talkin'.

The boots weren't in her size, but the sales girl checked to see if they were in their warehouse, and said they would be shipped to our house for free. Woo-hoo! She also saw these sandals, on clearance for $20:

My mother has the exact same sandals, and Diva puts them on and wears them around the house when she's there. So she was thrilled to have a pair of her own.

I also had a gift card to Famous Footwear, as I mentioned in this post. I found a couple pairs of cute and comfy sandals on clearance (which is good, because I'm still wearing last year's flip-flops.) So between the Famous Footwear Buy 1 Get 1 Half Off sale and a coupon I had for $10 off a $50 purchase, we got 4 pairs of shoes for less than $60- and since we had gift cards, we didn't pay a dime. Granted, my girl didn't get the most practical shoes in the world, but she will definitely wear them and love them.

I don't often shop "for fun," and I venture to the mall only rarely because I don't like it. But it was nice and quiet in the mall this morning- we got there just as the stores were opening- and I didn't mind it so much. I did find myself looking more at new and trendy clothes that were out (is an almost-30 woman supposed to be looking at clothes at Charlotte Russe?) and getting that itchy "wanting things" feeling. I think a big part of being a happy cheapskate is avoiding that itchy feeling of wanting more stuff. When I stay away from the mall, don't open up a fashion magazine or a catalog, or leave the TV off, I am much more content with the things I already have. And as fun as shopping can be from time to time, that's the way to be frugal and content.

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's Possible to be a Healthy Cheapskate

There was an article today in The Boston Globe about how the recession is causing people to slide into unhealthy habits...

"Fattening foods are cheaper and easier to find than healthier fare. People are working longer hours for less pay, taking second jobs to make up lost earnings, and struggling to maintain a gym membership - or all three. Worrying about work translates into wider waistlines, it turns out, mostly for people who are already overweight. Oh, and losing sleep, too? That’ll add on the pounds, as well."

It is a sad fact that the poor in our country tend not to be malnourished, but over-nourished... the cheapest food that's readily available to most people is full of empty calories. It requires some education in nutrition to make good choices that are also inexpensive. I'm no expert in health or anything, but I read a lot about nutrition and exercise and I try to make good choices for me and my family.

In my couponing and grocery shopping adventures, I've had to turn down many good deals that were for processed foods that were just plain unhealthy. (Even though my kids eat boxed mac n' cheese once in a while, we usually eat meals from scratch that are based around vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat. ) I try to tell myself- just because it's cheap, doesn't mean we should eat it! And I don't buy it just to donate to the food pantry- because, as the article points out, the people using the food pantry are the ones suffering the most. They don't need unhealthy food either!

So how do cheapskates stay healthy? A nutrition professor recommends :

"... filling the shopping cart with fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season or on sale, and heading to the frozen vegetables aisle otherwise. Meat, fish, or poultry should be in 3-ounce portions and whole grains should make up the rest of a well-balanced varied diet."

I would add to that:
  • Make home-cooked meals all the time. Much to my kids' chagrin, I make a really big deal of making sure we don't need to get takeout unless we plan it in advance as a special treat. Plan out what you're going to eat each week, and if you know that you will be busy on certain nights, plan around that. Make double batches of meals and freeze them. Eat leftovers. If you're out and about at dinnertime, pack a picnic.
  • Drink tap water. It's (practically) free, and if your water is gross, use a filter! My kids have juice only once a day, and I like to add a little splash of juice to my H20, but otherwise we drink lots of water.
  • Eat breakfast every day. Studies prove that it really helps with maintaining a healthy weight, and it can be one of the least expensive meals of the day.
  • Eat less. Think before you eat- are you eating because you're bored, or because it's 3 o'clock and you always have a snack at 3 o'clock? Only eat when you're hungry, and stop eating when you're full!

The article also has suggestions on saving money on exercise, by signing up for group classes at the gym rather than using a personal trainer. That still sounds pretty expensive to me! I know people have a lot of different ways they try to stay fit. Personally, I have found that exercise videos/DVD's fit into my lifestyle as a working mom very well- I have stuck with the exercise habit for about 8 years that way. When I have a spare half hour or so, I pop in a DVD and get my workout done- I don't need to go anywhere and I don't need a lot of special equipment (and the equipment that you do need, you can usually pick up used from Craigslist, Freecycle, yard sales, or Play it Again Sports.) I spend very little money on my workout habit- I will occasionally pick up a used DVD or two from, and there is a local discount store that often has DVD's marked down for just a couple of dollars. Another great thing about workout videos- you don't need fancy workout clothes because you're not working out in public! I do my workouts in my jammies.

My husband has always sworn by going to the gym- he says you can't get a "real workout" at home. The gym he goes to is $20 a month, which isn't bad, if you go. Lately, though, it's been harder and harder for him to get himself out the door and to the gym, so he's been wanting to develop a home workout program for himself too. I've been keeping my eyes open for some used workout equipment for him- he needs much bigger weights than I do, and a weight bench, and he likes to use an elliptical at the gym. If we can find a used one for $200 or less and we cancel the gym membership, it will pay for itself in 10 months!

Walking is also great exercise and it's free.. The thing I love about walking is that it's so multi-purpose. You get exercise, fresh air, you get to see what's going on around the neighborhood and say "hi" to your neighbors. We have a dog, so giving her a walk gives her the exercise she needs too, and keeps her happy. When you walk with your family or friends, you can socialize, and when you're alone, it's a nice time to be quiet and think, or listen to music, or books on tape, or whatever. We live in the middle of nowhere, so we couldn't walk to do errands, but if you live near civilization, you could even get some errands done on your walk.

I don't think the media is doing anyone any favors by making it sound like it's really hard and expensive to exercise and eat right. It's all about making health a priority, and making good choices. Exercising helps to relieve stress and helps you to sleep better, which in turn fosters overall health. And with obesity being a huge risk factor for lots of medical conditions, being healthy saves you lots of money in the long run.

Spendin' Money on a Monday

I considered titling this post "Money-Saving Monday..." but the truth of the matter is, the best way to save money is to sit at home and not spend a dime! But, alas, one must buy groceries, and the best way to do it is to plan out what you're doing, and save as much money as you can.

I live about 15 miles away from most stores. :-( That makes shopping a big pain in my butt, so I try to plan out my shopping trips well so I don't waste gas and time and energy. (This also means that I often let deals pass me buy... I am not driving 15 miles to Rite-Aid for a tube of toothpaste, even if it's a moneymaker, when I have 40 tubes of toothpaste sitting in my basement. It's just the way things are...)

When I head out shopping for the day, I either get the sense that I am "on" or I am not. I don't know if anyone else has this feeling- like you just "know" when you're going to get good deals or not. When I am "off," I walk into the store and nothing I want is in stock, the cashiers and clerks give me a hard time, the coupon is for a different size item... do you know what I mean? To me, that's usually a signal to buy only what I need and go on home. Today, I knew it was going to be a good shopping trip.

I don't usually chronicle my grocery purchases, except to my husband who pretends to be interested (God bless him,) but I will today- it was a decent shopping trip- nothing crazy, but good. I apologize for my lousy photo cropping... my picture editing software is being uncooperative at the moment.

My groceries- I spent $37.19 at Shaw's, Stop and Shop, and Walmart. Some highlights...

  • Stop and Shop- I got Cranberry Pomegranate Juice for .56 a bottle (it was on sale for 1.66, and I had a .55/1 coupon that doubled. I only got two bottles because I only had 2 coupons... I'm not sure if we like Cranberry Pomegranate juice or not.)
  • The strawberries were 2.99 for 2 lbs., also at Stop and Shop.
  • I got bread for .50 a loaf on markdown at Shaw's- even though we're mostly eating homemade bread now, I like having some backup in the freezer in case I don't have time to make it. And-it's kinda sad in a way, but I figured out that in the cost of flour alone, I spend over .50 a loaf to make bread. But it's so tasty and delicious, it's worth it.
  • At Shaw's, I got Swiss Premium Iced Tea for .24 a 1/2 gallon- they are on sale for .99, and there is a tearpad for .75 off coupons, which ended up doubling. I only got 2 of those because my fridge is packed!
  • I got sugar and Breyer's Yocrunch yogurt as part of the $3 off $10 deal- I paid 4.80 for 10 lbs of sugar and 2 4-packs of yogurt. That is some really expensive yogurt though, even on sale.
  • Hood ice cream and frozen yogurt was 2.50- I had $1/1 coupons... the whole family is happy when there's ice cream in the fridge, and then we don't need to spend any money on the ice cream truck that comes by every day...
  • I didn't end up getting any meat from the meat sale. I think the best deal was 1.66/lb for turkey burger, which I can get more inexpensively at a local butcher.
  • At Wal-mart, I used up the rest of my Ronzoni Smart Taste coupons before they expired... .50 per box isn't too bad for pasta
  • And, I got Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for .50 a box with a Buy 3, get 1 free coupon- which is about .38 per box which isn't bad.
  • I also got Boca Burgers for 2.18 with the coupons I had. We like veggie burgers as a quick supper sometimes.
Yesterday I stopped at a local fruit stand and spent $12 on butter, eggs, celery, carrots, a watermelon, apples, bananas, and HUGE zucchini for .50/lb. So my food spending is about $50 for the week- not too bad. I usually average about $60 a week but it fluctuates- some weeks I spend $20, some weeks I spend $100...

I also went to Walgreens and spent $7.86.

  • Got some free Mentos Gum
  • And some G2 gel pens, free after RR, my most favoritest pens in the whole world (I made a second trip and got more)
  • Scotch tape was .06 per roll
  • Kleenex was about .56 a box- I used the $1/3 coupon that was for lotion-type Kleenex, which was part of the sale this week.
  • .89 is a good price for tuna
  • And I've been using more bar soap for washing our hands- it seems like it lasts longer and is cheaper. We've been using little hotel soaps for months in our bathrooms.

I also went by Staples to get some free-after-rebate school supplies, and CVS to get free-after ECB school supplies (and Bic Soliel razors which are free)... Now it's time to kick back! No more shopping for me! (Oh... I did want to get to Target.. who knows if that will happen!)