May 31, 2011

The Pantry Pre-Challenge: Persistent Assistance

So, not a good week last week for Blogger folks who - get right out of town! - wanted to comment and be commented on. And - apparently - it's been difficult for some people to comment right here at the Mrs since maybe February.

So imagine my delight and consternation when I get an email from WilliamB, someone who's clearly a faithful reader of Kristen at The Frugal Girl, and whose helpful advice about food make the comments on her Food Waste Friday posts worth reading.

WilliamB can't comment. WilliamB has followed the tangled web of links and comments on one of Kristen's posts, is reading my blog, has advice for the pantry challenge, and can't comment.

And there's nothing I can see that's wrong with my comments set up. I disabled captcha long ago (much to Lannis' disappointment but no one else's - it had developed a Spacy Odyssey crush on her and I thought it best to nip it in the bud before it took over my computer in an attempt to woo her electronically).

I've done my best to open up the comments setting so wide that even those crazy spam computers can comment if they want to. Apparently they don't.

I'm kind of disappointed.

And still, WilliamB can't comment. But instead of throwing in the very proverbial towel, WilliamB emails me. And what develops over six or so emails is some of the best specific food advice I've ever gotten: I sent forth my freezer, fridge and pantry inventory spreadsheet, and received back a eerily familiar but completely different spreadsheet that - instead of a random list of ingredient-type things - was a list of fourteen or fifteen complete meal suggestions, using most of the stuff I already have.

Seriously. How awesome is that?

I know exactly how awesome it is, and have planned at least three meals this week from his suggestions (puff pastry chicken pot pie, rotini gratin and quinoa frittatta).And yes, I will observe and report.

So - until the day I become a computer genius and figure out why Blogger hates me and eats my comments - please feel free to email me and tell me all about yourself and what superpowers you have. Because I'm nothing but grateful that anybody's even reading this thing.

And yes, I said consternation.

May 30, 2011

Project Grocery: The Points Game

I've played the game again - the one that splits my cheapskate soul and my regular soul, and makes them fight.

That would be the Optimum points game. (For those of you without Shopper's Drug Mart, Optimum points are their loyalty rewards, and you may recall that back in February I ignored the icky feeling that my regular soul complained about and redeemed 40,000 points for a lot o' stuff.)

This time, the game was a 20x the points when you spend at least fifty bucks deal. So I think to myself, I think: I'm planning to get some of my groceries at Shopper's anyway, and - Lannis will be proud - the Duracell re-chargeable batteries are on sale, with the charger. That's fifty dollars right there.

My Shopper's list said: coffee (on sale), milk, batteries and charger, and (for real) "butter, lots of".

And then, it happened.

I went alone. I looked through my coupon list. I looked at the 20x the points sign. And did this:

Click to enlarge
That's at least $30 worth of points, and you know I won't redeem them unless a really sweet redemption event compels me to do so. (Says the cheapskate soul: cackle, cackle.)

High on getting free stuff, my cheapskate soul went home (and, I imagine, drank a coffee and read an actual book) and my regular soul went to to Sobeys and did this:

Click to enlarge
Surprisingly enough, my Sobey's list said: vegetable oil, pop, dishwasher detergent, oranges, ground beef and pork tenderloin. Four extra things isn't too shabby - for me - and I blame my regular soul for buying cat food.

In total, my points and coupons perfect storm cost us $223.61. But - and call me cheater if you want to - not all of that is coming out of my grocery budget. When I write out those things, I come out at $143.37. Which is why The Pantry Pre-Challenge is still on. More on that tomorrow.


May 27, 2011

Food Waste Friday: The Strangest Request

I was very away yesterday - in meetings, in another town two hours away. All day.

So, in one of the strangest requests I've ever made of anyone, I left a message at home for Mr:

"Could you please take a picture of the root beer pulled pork leftovers before you put it in the trash?"

And my darling man complied. With no questions.

Probably because it's hard to get answers out of a voicemail message. And he's used to how crazy I am.


And yes, I said Root Beer Pulled Pork. Wasted. At least a sandwich's worth. You have to know how much it's vexing me.

In my defense - if I allow myself one - we made an enormous amount for Mr's parents. Enormous.

May 26, 2011

No One Ever Said I Was a Clothes Horse

A clothes horse! What does that even mean?

I know what it doesn't mean. It doesn't even remotely mean me, because - despite the wicked awesome shoes and the overwhelming excitement of my new purse, I will never be at the forefront of any kind of fashion trend.

I like looking nice - or at least thinking I look nice. I like not worrying about whether my clothes are appropriate for work or not.

What I don't like is spending any time at all thinking about what I'm going to wear, when it's 7:45 in the morning, both kids are still covered in oatmeal, I'm in my pyjamas, and we have to be out the door in three minutes.

I also (surprise!) don't like paying money for things. So here's my zero time, zero money solution:


It doesn't look like it, but I actually own two vests. Two. Whole. Vests. One of them is grey. I also have three pairs of pants and seven shirts. Some of which I've had for ten years.

Kristen at The Frugal Girl had a great post yesterday about how cheapskatery looks different on everyone, depending on your goals.

Mine, clearly, are not clothes-related. What do you cheap out on?

May 25, 2011

Guest Post: Breaking the Fast

My dear friend Lannis has - in what I can only call a moment of extreme serendipity - written a guest post for me this morning. So I may or may not get up at 5:14 this morning. And I may - or may not - make myself an enormous coffee and sit down on the couch and read a book until everyone else gets up. Ah, the life of luxury...

* * *

Kids are weird. (I should clarify that it’s me, Lannis, posting today. Hi!)

And correction: MY kids are weird. Yes. Very weird. I love ‘em, but somedays, I just have to tilt my head in befuddlement and say, “bless your little face,” because I may have carried them, but Lord knows I have no control over the content of their squidgy little brains...

Take, for example, breakfast

Breakfast around here has many different forms. All of it lazy. And I’m not kidding — we’re talking top-of-the-line lazy. I’m a stay-at-home-mom (hold the applause — I’m the lazy kind. That kind that feels like they’re playing hookie and will never, ever manage to make up to my husband the lack of weight-pulling done on my part).

Anyhow... I tried to make them breakfast, tried to give them good habits. We always eat breakfast, religiously, as soon as we wake, and we never, ever skip. These are good things.

What they eat, though? That’s a whole other story.

Breakfast has taken many incarnations over the past 4+ years. Lately, it’s been a piece of bread (super-hearty-grainy brown bread; or raisin bread), and dry bowl of cereal (Foot Loops mixed with Cheerios for the 4 year old; Frosted Mini-Wheats for the 5 year old). Also, watered down juice.


Yes. This is what I serve. Or rather, what they request.

Because try as I might — I can do hoola-hoops and spin plates while swallowing fire on the stage that is my little kitchen — no matter how much attention I attempt to draw, I cannot get them to thank me for making pancakes, or oatmeal, or eggs and bacon, or even for putting milk on their blasted, desert-dry cereal.

I put my foot down, though, on school days. Then they have to eat (that super-duper-hearty-grain brown bread) toast, along with their dry cereal and juice. But they get to pick what they want on said toast. The 5 year old will blend seamlessly into society because he likes jam (we have four flavours he can choose from). My 4 year old free-spirit will always make waves. Some days he’s rather bland, asking for cream cheese. Sometimes cream cheese with jam.


Two days ago: relish. Before that? Mustard.

...

Ew.

Yes, he was serious. And yes, he ate it. Even asked for a cloth to clean up his epic mustard mustache.

And today? Oh. Today I made the toast, and the 4 year old began to cry bawl, stating he didn’t ask for toast. What did he really want? Lettuce and cheese. Just loose on a plate — no bread, nothing remotely resembling a sandwich.

Because that’s clearly breakfast food, yes?

So tell me, parents — commiserate with me, please! — what’s the oddest thing your kidlets have asked for for breakfast?

Occasional poster at The Mrs, I'm Lannis - or Leslie, depending on which circles you're swimming. A while ago I decided that I don't care anymore, hence my general standards for life are lower than The Mrs' (but she still loves me.) [Editor: I do]

I live in a small town with my favourite people: my husband, Mr Lannis, and our two boys, along with two cats and one hamster.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might witness my issues with linear thought, road rage, spending more money on food than books, and potty mouth. Be warned.

May 24, 2011

What Else Can Go Wrong?

Jr? Didn't nap at daycare today. Grumpy-pants. (And probably shirt, socks and diaper.)

Mr? Sick. Thinks he has the flu.

Miss? Verrry two. Didn't want to come home from daycare.

New satellite box, that we got for free and one of the main reasons we switched up all of our phone, internet and tv service a few months ago? Broken. And no longer under warranty, because it only lasted 90 days.

Blogger? Not letting people like Lannis and WilliamB comment.

Raccoons? Have learned to open up my locked compost bin and have developed a taste for rib bones and coffee grounds.

Me? I'm considering sticking my head in the oven. But only just to check on the blueberry muffins.


Don't be surprised if I don't get up and stealth blog at 5:14 tomorrow morning. But don't be surprised if I do.

Backyard DIY: Move that Dirt

Where did we leave off? Here, I think:


Someday, this will be a patio. Right now, it's a pile of dirt. And we need somewhere to put our tomatoes. Righto, then. It's dirt moving time.

Mr said he wanted to rent a roto-tiller. From the depths of my being I was against it, and not because of the cost. (Okay, a little because of the cost.) Mainly, though, because of The Peony Story.

The Peony Story goes a little like this: When we bought our first house, it was winter. The snow eventually melted away, and we saw that the backyard was - shall we say - a blank canvas. But one with a peony bush.


And a lot of rocks where a patio should be and dandelions where a lawn should be. So Mr rented himself a roto-tiller and dug that backyard up. Including the peony. Looking back, my response was possibly a little overexcited. But you can understand my aversion to roto-tillers.


So, in my slightly hysterical effort to save the two (TWO!) peony bushes that came with this house, I poo-pooed the roto-tiller and said I'd dig out the tomato bed, move the big heap of dirt to fill in the various holes in the backyard, and clear out half of the flower bed (inexplicably mulched with gravel by previous owners). By myself. With a shovel.

Oh yes, and before the thunderstorms rolled in at noon.

So this


Became this


Became this


And let's pause here for a minute to discuss weeds. A particular weed. This weed:


You can see it's nefarious roots all through the bed (you can also see my gooseberry bush and my peony bushes. I'm a little excited about them.). It's some kind of wild morning glory that has lovely pink flowers but grows over everything. Everything:


And it comes up overnight. I swear to you, this whatever-you-call-it weed was not up last week. And I pulled up as much of it as I could see. And yet:


Yeah. I can see this is going to be a daily effort. But the seedlings are in. The tomato grave bed is dug:


 (Mostly. Mr says it needs to be bigger. Hmph. Him and his roto-tilling self.)

The stump hole and ex-dog run path are filled:


And this pile is substantially smaller.


Except that it's bigger. Because we went out and bought more (on sale, of course) for the tomatoes (still unplanted), and because Mr and Miss were very busy while I was moving dirt around,


And now we've got to fill these, too.


Not that I'm complaining. My shoulder might be, but I'm not.

Backyard DIY: Eradication is the Name of This Game

May 23, 2011

Project Grocery: The Pantry Pre-Challenge. Or, Math is Awesome.

You may recall that last week's epic grocery bill prompted thoughts of another Pantry Challenge. And I got all rash on Friday and said I was going to do one, but I didn't know for how much, but I'd figure it out this weekend.

How's -$93 for a number? That's what we'd have to spend this week to get our 23 week average down to $120. Or $26.82 for weeks 23 and 24. Awesome. Math is awesome, especially when combined with grocery overspending.

So, instead of an official Pantry Challenge in the next two weeks, I'm doing a Pantry Pre-Challenge. We're going to spend some unspecified (but small) amount of money on groceries every week, and get that average number down low enough to actually have a shot at bringing it below $120. Ideally, somewhere in the $110 range, so we can actually pretend that cloth diapers are saving us money.


That there, my friends, is $68.52 worth of groceries. We're eating quinoa tacos, hamburgers, lemon pork chops, hoisin chicken stir fry and salad for suppers this week, and - of course - oatmeal for breakfasts.

I will eventually do a real Pantry Challenge and will open the floor to the rest of the math loving, grocery over-spending world (all six of you). In the meantime, and for the extra daring, the inventory is up. Go mix and match for me. Come up with ridiculously awesome food combinations.


 Because my brain is firmly in Queen Victoria's birthday mode, and it has said "I already came up with quinoa tacos. I'm done."

The Pantry Pre-Challenge: Fridge, Freezer and Pantry Inventory

As part of the Pantry Pre-Challenge, I've inventoried what we have in the fridge, freezer and pantry in much more detail than anyone should care about. A million points to the person who can figure out how to use the "1/2 box extra lean chipotle chicken breasts" in a way that makes them edible.

In the Big Pantry In the Fridge Freezer
6 bottles olive oil 1 bag chicken bones
12 cans tomatoes 1 jar instant yeast
1 box rotini poppy seeds
lots of oatmeal sesame seeds
various bits of noodles 1 ginger root
1 cup quinoa 1 lb unsalted butter
4 jars apple butter ½ bag chocolate chips
6 jars dilly beans ½ bag frozen veggies
1 jar pickled jalapeno 4 egg yolks
1 jar pickled peppers 7 cubes rutabaga
½ lb brown sugar 1 box puff pastry
1 jar brown gravy mix ½ box extra lean chipotle chicken breasts

1 sticky bun
In the Small Pantry 1 bag veggie scraps for stock
1 can fruit cocktail ½ bag frozen corn
7 ½ lbs flour ¼ bag frozen peas
1 lb white sugar 6 pancakes
1 jar active dry yeast 1 apple pie
1 can sliced beets 1 bag chopped parsley
1 package chicken gravy 1 bag peaches
8 mini cans flavoured tuna 1 bag pumpkin puree
2 cans plain tuna 1 bag clam juice
2 cans flavoured tuna ½ loaf raisin bread
1 can mixed beans 1 mini loaf cinnamon swirl
1 can condensed cream of chicken 1 bag bread ends
2 boxes kraft dinner 1 bag cut bread pieces for croutons
¼ cup barley 1 bag beef bones & trimmings
1 bottle italian dressing
1 bottle pizza sauce In the Chest Freezer
2 jars peanut butter 1 bag chopped parsley
3 individ. Packages cup o soup 1 bag mashed strawberries
1 bag of potatoes 3 bags chicken stock
5 lbs basmati rice 1 pastry ball
2 bulbs garlic 1 bag chopped celery

1 lb unsalted butter
In the Fridge 1 bag rib drippings
a little root beer pulled pork 1 package pork chops
1 block cheddar cheese 1 package chicken thighs
1 big hunk parmesan cheese 4 jars strawberry jam
3 slices sweet bologna 2 packages ground beef
½ can chickpeas 1 loaf thanksgiving dinner bread
16 eggs ½ loaf herb bread
1 pint blueberries 3 bags applesauce
1 head cabbage 1 package pollock
1 bunch celery
5 carrots
2 lemons
1 orange
4 apples
1 onion
½ cup leftover barbecue sauce
lots o' condiments

May 20, 2011

Food Waste Friday: NEVER Try to be Cheeky

Here's me, trying to be cheeky:


Yesterday evening, making my lunch and cleaning out the fridge for Food Waste Friday. Thinking I'm super fabulous for having no food waste this week, the week of the Enormous Grocery Bill, Feeling pretty good about myself, and deciding to take a picture of the carrot and cucumber ends as a cheeky little salute to my non-wasting self.

Then:


This morning, in the shower, remembering I had snapped a picture of this leftover and un-re-served (yes, it is now a word) fried rice, just before I tossed it. Two weeks ago.

And also that head of lettuce in the middle of the week that turned out to be green(ish) on the outside, and only (ish) on the inside.

And the cheese and homemade crackers I brought to work on Tuesday and didn't have time to eat. Because I barely had time to pee, and - for once - peeing took precedence over food. Must have been a full moon or something.

There's my lesson in pride for the week. What was yours?

(I'm doing a Pantry Challenge again starting this weekend to try bring that grocery total down to the ground. I don't know what the amount will be. Or the length of time. But I'm starting with a freezer, fridge and pantry inventory. And I'll put up a linky, if anyone wants to join in. Be warned.)


May 19, 2011

ReStore Score


I don't like shopping second hand. I really, really don't.

It has nothing to do with image or pride or the ick factor of rummaging through someone else's things. No, what turns me off is the all-or-nothing feeling I get when I survey what looks like an airplane hangar full of mostly uncategorized stuff.

You know, that feeling. The one that tells your one functioning eyeball (or in your case, possibly two) "You have to look at every. single. thing. in here before you'll find anything useful to you."

So imagine my surprise when - as one of the cold, rainy day activities we came up with to do with Mr's parents, in the absence of anything remotely resembling nice weather - we walked into our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and immediately saw these babies:


Five matching chairs. Five oak chairs, in great repair, with leather seats (that we'll re-cover some fine day). Five heavy chairs. Did I mention there were five of them? For $30 each? Down from a price of $45 each?

To understand my bone-deep excitement, let's step back a moment and think about what kind of seating we had chez Mrs before this angels-singing-down-from-the-sky event:

  • Two (pine?) chairs, lovingly found, stained and re-covered by my dear mother when Mr and I first got married ten years ago.
  • One sort of similar oak chair restored to match the first two, also by my dear mother.
  • One cherry chair with arms, found at a neighbour's yard sale and recovered to match the other ones.

Pause. Okay, that seats me, Mr, Miss in her booster and one guest in reasonable comfort. Jr's still in a highchair but isn't too many months away from being another demanding chair hog.

Let's imagine for a moment we persuade more than one guest to dine with us (unlikely, I know). We also have:

  • Two black plastic folding chairs
  • One chrome and red vinyl folding chair that - while utterly awesome - also poses a very real threat of dismemberment to anyone brave enough to sit on it.
  • I have nothing to put in  this spot. I just wanted a third bullet point.

That's it. Four real chairs, two flimsy chairs and a death chair. And heaven forbid we have anyone over with kids, because let's face it: they're safer eating off the floor.

Featured on BlogHer.comSo while $150 on furniture was a completely unbudgeted for item this month, we snatched those babies up faster than you can say "personal injury lawsuit".

Because it's not like I'd ever shell out the money for new ones anyway.

May 18, 2011

Nothing

I've got nothing for you this morning. My brain stopped working sometime last night - let's say 8:45 - and hasn't started firing on all cylinders yet.

I kind of planned to give you an update on the seedlings, who are in their early twenties and flirting with moving out of the house, but aren't quite mature enough yet.


I guess I just did. We had grand plans to garden last weekend and put those in-laws to work, but the weather didn't co-operate. Dumb weather.

We did manage to get the asparagus buried respectfully, though. Two weekends ago. When it actually felt like spring.


Our plans this weekend - the holiday weekend for us northerners - include pressure washing the house, getting the seedlings in the actual ground, planting the planters with something as close to free as humanly possible, and digging weeds out of the lawn.

Fun times.

May 17, 2011

Busy, busy, busy

We've been busy this weekend with some really important things.

Things like playing the Bean Game:


(Also known as Bohnanza) Or Payday:


Or like cooking, and eating:


And, of course, more cooking, and more eating:


Things like first haircuts:


First birthday parties:


And first time food failures:


(Sure. Like that was my first time.)

I'm tired. But it was good.

May 16, 2011

Project Grocery: Party Time

Grocery shopping - sit down for this one - is one of my favourite things to do. Grocery shopping in its purest form, that is.

What's the purest form of shopping, you ask? 5:45 AM, alone, with coffee. And a list that is very short, but that will combine with the maximum number of things I already have at home to fill up an entire week of menus.

The perfect grocery storm happened this Saturday, since Mr's parents are up from Pennsylvania, and I had the perfect excuse to head out before anyone else was up and get it done. I'll even duplicate my list for you:




Sobey's YIG Shopper's
Blueberries 3% Milk asparagus eggs
Bananas Oranges cheese butter
Cauliflower Carrots ribs miracle whiip
Sweet Potatoes Grapes

Chicken Breast Pasta Deal



I came home with the list, and nothing but the list (except for the stuff at YIG and Shopper's, since they aren't open that early). I even made some cuts, and only spent $86.73. See:


I felt like I was on top of the world: by 6:30 on Saturday morning, I had the grocery shopping done (barring six items), had got my hands on a case of pasta, a case of canned tomatoes and a case of olive oil for forty dollars, and was still going to be on budget.

And we were going to have a party for Jr's first birthday, at which we would consume the enormous hunk of meat I bought in April.

Sweet.

This, then, is the story of how things went off the rails.

So, the extra trips. Ten of them. In two days. One to pick up whipped cream. Another for honey. The pre-planned ones to YIG and Shopper's, with extra stuff thrown in. A mustard and ketchup run, for the Root Beer Pulled Pork (yes. I mentioned it again. It's that good, and I'm that obsessed). A final, pre-party run for horseradish, juice and gingerale.

$120.90 worth of extra trips. 

And, while I didn't go on a single one of them, I can't blame Mr for them either. He had company on most of them, and I was usually the one sending him out for stuff I'd forgotten.

I'd forgotten things like cream cheese for the cupcake icing:


 And like extra eggs for the meringue:


So here - in management-speak - are my takeaways from this week's project grocery:

1. I made a crappy list.
2. Jr's birthday party was awesome. And I'm glad we had the food we had.
3. I sense another pantry challenge coming on.

Better enjoy these while we can, then.


(You can follow along with the entire sad story of Project Grocery starting from the beginning. Lucky you.)

May 15, 2011

You Want Pork? I'll Give You Pork.

Root Beer Pulled Pork, in pictures. On a rainy day, while I was starving to death. Context? Done.

Let's start with something more appetizing than wet, naked pork glistening in the sun, though, shall we? It's 6:22. I'm not quite up for that image yet.


Okay, now, from the top:




Now for the waiting...


Next, the shredding:


The saucing:

Then, the trumpets.