Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ode to the Grease Jar, Or Two Days of Bacon

This is my grease jar. All kitchens should have one. I at least keep mine in the fridge. In my youth, all of the women I knew kept them on the stove where they got warm and cooled down about fifty times a day. It didn't matter. They still used the stuff and nobody died.
For those of you who don't know what a grease jar is here goes. A grease jar is an old jar you use to keep your bacon grease in. Back in the day there were actual containers that said grease on the front and had little filters inside to separate the dregs from the oil. I would presume they are no longer made. Bacon grease is like gold. It is magical. It can uplift the saddest of culinary efforts and a little goes a long way. I use it in cornbread (I know that's a whole other post) both in the mix, in the skillet and to season the skillet after use. It makes a great wilted salad dressing with a little vinegar and sugar and salt. It is great to fry eggs in and to season vegetables. It's a must for gravy although I know we're pretty much not supposed to eat gravy anymore. I never dip into my jar without thinking about my mother and my grandmother and my aunts all hoarding their bacon grease and all of the unbelievable things they made with it. It's a pleasure and honor to continue their great culinary tradition.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Frugality Gone Awry Fridays

There's always something to jack up our frugality. Or as a wise person once said, "If you want God to laugh, tell her your plans". Starting today and every Friday I would love for us to share how our thriftiness got rearranged this week. Please join me and comment and let's have a good old-fashioned airing out. If you lost a job we'll sympathize. If you wrecked the car we'll feel properly sad. If you bleached the family's blue jeans by mistake and have to buy all new ones well, we'll laugh. But not at you. Promise. In these lovely economic times I'm sure we've all scrimped in one way only to see the money fly out the door somewhere else. Come on, let's make ourselves feel better.

Frugality Gone Awry Week 1
I'll start with these damnable expensive pets. Benz (see above) somehow managed to get an infection in his paw. He limped around for a day or two so Travis McGee took him to the vet where he proceeded to get his picture taken with the techs, ate a sackful of treats, got a shot and generally got loved on by everybody. $130 later he was just fine. Literally. After leaving the vet's office he never limped again. The dog needed some retail therapy. The minute that debit card got swiped he felt ever so much better. This is a dog that was in too much pain to get up in the bed. So thank you my big puppy dog for taking our money this week. Now please tell me how your week went in the land of frugality gone awry.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bacon Tastes Good. Porkchops Taste Good.

So yesterday in the New York Times, which let's all remember the Frugal Maven no longer receives on her doorstep but must read online due to actually trying to reduce expenses and be, you know, frugal, there was an article about the "Bacon Explosion". This is a recipe devised by two competitive barbecue guys in Kansas. Essentially it is a latticed mat of raw bacon with a layer of italian sausage and cooked bacon, rolled up and cooked in a smoker. Now, I do love the pig in all of his or her forms. I am less enamored of the extraneous parts because I grew up eating the whole pig, which was slaughtered and dressed in our barn. I'm kinda done with snouts and feet. In general in my adult life I like the meaty parts that come in easily defined packages like ham and pork butt. Once the Frugal Maven saw Paula Deen actually kiss a pork chop on her show and identified easily with her. But I think even I might have to pass on the "Bacon Explosion". It did make me think about one of my favorite scenes ever in a movie, when John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are talking about eating pork in Pulp Fiction. If you can stand the language here goes:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Freezing Our Booties Off

It's a snow day! I have not had a snow day ever in the 20 years I've been in the car business. In 1994 we got sixteen inches of snow and the police were ticketing everyone who got out on the roads and I still had to go to work. To shovel the snow off of cars. In case someone wanted to buy one. And I wasn't even in sales. We brushed off enough snow to get into them, pulled them into service, hosed them down, dried them off and put them back out on the lot. Idiotic.

Remember that the next time you think people in the car business are slackers. Yesterday I went in along with everyone else and we had three customers in service. We don't get paid unless we actually fix a car so needless to say I was not getting paid to be there. But there we all were, on time and dressed for action and trying not to be pissy. I'm just saying. When times get really bad and we are knocking on your door looking for a job remember we're the ones who'll always show up.

Sadly, I would not have a snow day today except that there is no power in the entire neighborhood around my work. They can make us come in in the snow, but if the air guns don't work then neither can we. Whooohoooo!

So this is a picture of the sad tree that is down in front of our building next door to the Basilica. This ice storm is gorgeous! And deadly!

This is Fiona and Travis McGee's leg loving some snow

And Benz having none of it:

I'm with Benz. I'm going to curl up with a Jennifer Crusie novel and a brownie and hot chocolate and proceed with a proper snow day. Stay warm people.

The Politics of Book Buying

I am an inveterate book buyer. I love all books and am loathe to ever part with them. When DH and I moved in together, he was informed that we needed bookshelves. Four floor-to-12-foot ceiling bookcases later he was still building and I still had boxes left over. Yesterday at a junk shop I purchased four books including Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and The Mother Earth News 1973 Almanac. I have always intended to read the former and couldn't resist the latter. More to come on how to know if a tornado is coming by warming up your tv and checking the snow pattern on Channel 2. And how to pluck a duck's down by waxing it first.

But here we are in the gray area again. Should I buy new so that the author gets their cut? Or is it fair game to buy used since the author ostensibly got their cut the first time around anyway? I will not buy a paperback with the front page torn off as we know noone ever got paid for it. Should I be buying e-books since the author usually gets a higher percentage of the profit? Should I be trying to shore up the publishers since they're by and large going down the toilet? Lots to ponder and no good answers.

We haven't even gotten into the politics of recycling. Purchasing used books keeps them out of a landfill and gives them a new life. Purchasing used textbooks helps in cutting back on education costs. Personally I cannot imagine ever throwing away a book but people do it all the time.

And then there's the library. Why buy any books when you can read them for free? In the land of frugality that's probably the best answer. And then there's the option to download thereby saving trees. And the many book-swapping sites online. And releasing your books into the wild through Bookcrossing. What's a stingy girl to do?

I will never give up my love of books. I love the way they feel in the hand and the way they look on my shelves. I love browsing the flea market or thrift store and finding the only Margaret Atwood novel that I haven't read yet. I love receiving a gift card to a bookstore. So once again we are faced with how to be frugal while indulging a lifelong love.

If you're good with the Goodwill, here's a hip and stingy tip. All thrift stores have huge book selections. Some of them wear themselves out pricing each book individually. Half the time you can't find the price anywhere. The Goodwill has solved all of these problems. They sell all books for 50 cents. Hardback, paperback, new or old. Makes life easy and when you're needing a retail therapy fix it's a great place to spend $3.00 and feel like you've been on a spree!

What are your answers and questions to the book buying quandary? Go here: to get even more ideas for ways to increase your reading through frugal means.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Love Travis McGee

I am in love with Travis McGee. For the uninitiated, Travis McGee is a series character in John D. MacDonald's novels set in the sixties and seventies. He was the hero in twenty-one pulp paperbacks, a self-described salvage operator playing at Robin Hood, saving damsels and occasionally being saved by them. He also always said he was taking his retirement in installments, a plan that I personally think has a lot of merit.
He was a champion of the underdog, did not suffer fools, was an early feminist and was extremely loyal to his friends. In fact, he is my husband. From the moment I fell in love with DH, I thought he was a Travis McGee. Travis lived on a houseboat he won in a poker game. My husband, until right before I met him, lived in a boathouse that hung out over the intercoastal waterway. Travis loved and respected women passionately, even the women that didn't work out. DH has never met a woman he didn't like, including ex-wives and girlfriends. Both can fix anything, are not above doing a load of laundry (DH does it all at the Basilica--told you he was wonderful), love music, appreciate art, and take life in a laid back, beach bum sort of way. Both have had a dozen lives and always seem to come right back like a phoenix.
From now on, DH will officially be known on this blog as Travis McGee. My gorgeous, sweet, funny husband deserves more than a couple of initials. So, since this is my kingdom, henceforth I declare it to be so. All hail Travis McGee, the best foot massager in the South!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Let's Talk About Stingy, Baby

Ok. This is how today feels. It's Monday and I am saving one banana. It's on its' last legs and in the name of frugality it is getting a place in my new freezer. Someday I will have two more and can make a loaf of banana bread. Or I can make a healthy shake with this and some yogurt or milk. All of a sudden it's worth more than the 20 cents I paid for it. So glad I'm keeping it. It's so valuable I probably won't want to waste it and it will freezer burn and I will find it at Christmas. Have a hip and stingy Monday!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why Be Frugal?

Today and over the next few posts I want to probe the question of "Why be frugal?". More clearly, I want to explore living in the gray area. As I have written before, we have a real estate business so we are old hands now at juggling Peter to pay Paul. Since a bad real estate deal in 2005 it's been a constant farewell to emergency funds and reserves of money. We were already well-equipped and in practice when the rest of the economy went to crap. We are still moderately solvent and hanging on but it's a balancing act.

In this economy we still have so many choices as to how to spend our devalued money and on what. Shall we take the annual family vacation and buy the carbon offsets? Should we drive or fly? Which will be better for us? The steal of a deal from a company that may not be in business by the time July rolls around? The dreaded staycation, a word and concept that is already completely worn out? Should we even pretend to vacation at all? Will we have a job when July rolls around? Lots to think about and this is just pondering a vacation, something most of us aren't pondering at all this year.

The truth is, we live in a gray area. No one person's solution fits the next. There are very few right and wrong choices and more concessions to the myriad ways that we can save and plan. If the economy gets worse we'll have a head start and if the economy gets better maybe we'll have reacquainted ourselves with a few ways to cope that will allow us to live fuller, more aware lives in the future.

So, we are exceedingly frugal in my house in many ways and fail in so many others. We believe in buying local and conserving the environment. We also believe in stretching a dollar until it screams and there are contradictions in all that we do. I want to explore these contradictions until we are all at least thinking and making conscious choices. For years I believe that money just flew out the door for most of us and we probably couldn't account for half of it. Now we have no choice so I'm embracing my inner stingy. Let's explore ways to live better, learn something, have a little fun and be frugal in the gray area.