February 2010 Archives

All Things Must Come to an End

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

We set out to chronicle some ideas, thoughts, and stories about frugality. Maybe you learned some things, possibly a new way of looking at things.

It's been fun, but right now we're tapped out. The site will remain up for future reference, but there won't be any new posts. We hope you enjoyed reading as much as we had writing.

Until we meet again!

On Monday, Jen wanted to watch "Chariots of Fire." Ordinarily, wanting a DVD would involve a trip to the library, but it was closed for Washington's birthday. So, for the first time in a long time, we went to a video rental store. After discovering that what had once been our usual store had closed, we found one still in business.

Renting two old DVDs was cheaper than renting one new release, so we rented "Chariots" and another Oscar-winning film, "The Paper Chase", for less than it would have cost to rent "All About Steve."

(This strategy has its risks.)

About a year ago, I noted that we created little trash and paid the minimum for trash collection.

It turns out that Berkeleyites have been so successful in reducing their trash, that the city is $4 million short of projected revenue due to people doing the same.

While some of the adjustments will be painful, overall, I'd prefer to see further reduction of waste in the world, and further adjustment to it.

Lunar New Year Cake

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

It's the second day of the Year of the Tiger. Last night to serve as dessert to our New Year's Day meal, I dusted off an old recipe from the files, and it tasted exactly how I remembered it. What a joy it is to resurrect old tastes from childhood, which I last had at least twenty years ago.

Loosely translated, it's "Puffy Cake," something akin to sponge cake thanks to its airy texture. What's different about it is that it isn't baked in an oven, but rather steamed in a rice cooker. My mom gave me a vintage one last December, the same model I used to make rice for the nightly meal.

Sadly, the recipe is specially designed for the Tatung Rice Cooker in the 10-cup size, so I have no idea if it will work in any other brand or type, which is an indirect heat cooker.

4 eggs
1.5 cups brown sugar
0.75 cups milk
0.5 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1.5 cups flour, sifted
6 tablespoons vegetable oil

  1. Whisk eggs vigorously in a bowl, then add sugar and milk.
  2. Dissolve baking soda & powder in a tablespoon of water, then add to egg-sugar-milk
    mixture.
  3. Whisk in sifted flour until no lumps remain.
  4. Add oil.
  5. Pour into Tatung rice cooker's inner pot, then add 1.5 cups water to the outside and steam for approximately 50 minutes, or until a plunged knife comes out clean.

Roasted Cauliflower

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

This is a favorite of my winter veggie recipes, because practically all of our produce is purchased at the farmers' market, we essentially eat all our fruits & veg in season (except for our indulgence in bananas). I always get excited in the dead of winter to pick up a head of cauliflower after weeks of leafy greens and winter squash.

I never understood Mark Twain's assertion about cauliflower being a cabbage with a college education, but it is a standout in an already stellar cast of cruciferous vegetables.

Like root vegetables, cauliflower has a high sugar content that makes it spectacular for oven-roasting. And like most of my favorite recipes, it's embarrassingly easy yet oh-so delicious.

Roasted Cauliflower

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • olive oil
  • salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Wash cauliflower and chop into florets and slices, ensuring each piece has a flat side (so better to caramelize!).
  3. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil on a heavy baking sheet
  4. Place cauliflower pieces flat side down onto baking sheet
  5. Roast in oven for 15 minutes, or until cauliflower is crisp and the flat sides are deep brown.
  6. Sprinkle with salt to taste and enjoy. (They lose their crispness quickly after removing from the oven, so eat 'em while their hot!)

And RIP, Berkeley Daily Planet, my source for news Berkeley. You will be missed. :-(

Tuesday Morning Quarterbacking

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

There's a national chain store called Tuesday Morning and I can't stand it. Its name is a reminder that the first Tuesday of each month, new and exciting stock but limited amounts of it is unveiled to the public, at unbelieveable low prices.

They even go so far as to display the new items in the front windows of the store a few days before said morning, covered with white bed sheets, before the big reveal on the annointed Tuesday. It's very dramatic. And if you're lucky enough to be on their mailing list, you'll receive a catalog so you'll know what all the featured items are beforehand.

It's a fascinating use of the scarcity principle of selling, whereby a retailer artificially or simply creates the impression that there is a limited amount of time and/or stock to buy an item. To the purchaser, they suddenly feel they must buy now without dawdling, otherwise the fantastic price or item cannot be had.

Let me tell you that their prices aren't that good due to shoddy product quality (but it looks so pretty in the catalog!) and that each store may not even have the coveted item you want. I know this because my sister has been foiled one too many times over the years.

I do have to hand it to them for creating good retail buzz: years ago, I was walking down the street and saw a line of middle-aged, middle-class-looking women halfway down the block patiently waiting for that month's Tuesday morning bounty. The middle-aged, middle-class-looking woman walking in front of me asked the women in line what the excitement was about, and promptly queued up when she heard it was "A fantastic sale!"

Check the generic alternative

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Jen covered this for the prescription medicine case; I wanted to call some attention to its general applicability.

One of my failures of frugality was the time I bought from my eye doctor clip-on sunglasses that were fitted exactly to my glasses. They cost a lot.

Yesterday, I bought generic clip-ons from Costco for $13. They fit my glasses well, and look fine. (They're not flip-up so don't have the flip-ups' bulky hardware over the bridge of your nose.) If you were to look very closely, you'd notice their inexact fit, and the small spring that makes them adjustable, and I'm fine with that.

Whenever you're faced with a pricey purchase, make sure you know what the alternatives are.

Cooks Illustrated magazine

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

I just received my latest copy of Cooks Illustrated and I am beyond excited at the prospect of a CI-optimized recipe for chewy brownies with the shiny, crackly top. Though I posted an uber-delicious recipe for brownies but a few weeks ago, the one thing it lacked was the shiny, crackly top. More of a cosmetic concern when compared to taste, but vexed me nonetheless.

This is why I love Cooks Illustrated. It's the food and kitchen gadget version of Consumer Reports magazine.

It accepts no advertising, so their editorial content is beholden-free. Not to mention, it's chock full of high quality content, maximized on each beautifully hand-illustrated page.

There are kitchen appliance reviews that take into account price and performance (its editor-in-chief is a frugal New Englander) and explain why a particular brand was not rated a Winner, with several Best Buys as runners-up, again explaining why (usually has to do with an exorbitant, status symbol price tag --- cough cough Viking cough cough).

And even better, the recipes are optimized. A Cooks Illustrated recipe with its strange quantities are there for a reason. Because someone literally made the recipe over and over again (I've heard mention of eighty times) slowly adding or subtracting an ingredient in tablespoon quantities until hitting the sweet spot.

Last week I searched for banana bread recipes on the internet. They all contained the usual ingredients, but some had both baking soda and baking powder in them. It didn't really make much sense to me. It felt like "Well, that's the recipe my mom used."

Sure enough, I went to Cooks Illustrated and found their recipe that called for a single leavening agent. And if they had both soda and powder in the recipe, they would have explained it in the accompanying article. The recipe explanations satisfy the budding food scientist in me. My questions are laid to rest, knowing that someone has methodically questioned every ingredient in the recipe to ensure reproducibility and best taste.

So imagine my surprise when the accompanying CI article mentioned that it was box-mix brownies that pioneered the shiny, crackly top! Saturated fats (read: fats that are solid at room temp) in addition to unsatured fats (oils at room temperature) were apparently the secret.

Looks like there's going to be brownies in my future...

Finding Dolly Freed

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Finding Dolly Freed:

In 1978, at age eighteen, she wrote Possum Living, a frugal-living book that made her briefly famous amid an infamous economy. Then she went off the grid in the most unexpected of ways--she went mainstream. Now Dolly--and her book--are back.

This is a fascinating story about a father and daughter who came close to opting out of handling money altogether, and how the daughter opted back in, and how she's living now.

Invest in good health

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

In this New York Times editorial Michael Pollan makes a point we touch on here: a lot of the health problems in the U.S. are preventable through diet, exercise, and avoidance of recreational drugs.

Pollan further underscores that the U.S. government's food policies facilitate bad nutrition by making junk food cheaper.

As individuals, we can pay more for good food now, or more for health care later. The latter plan is apt to create more suffering.