Cent Saving Saturday: Garage Sale Mania!

Cent Saving Saturday

Last Saturday seemed to be neighborhood garage sale day in our area.  Our neighborhood and one just down the road had neighborhood-wide garage sales.  There was a craft sale at a nearby church, also.  I halfway thought of putting some stuff out to sell, but with getting ready for Muffin’s party and Easter and traveling to my sister’s…and shopping for the week…yeah, it wasn’t going to happen.

Instead, on the way back from getting the oil changed in the car (Josh and Muffin) and shopping for the remainder of items for Muffin’s birthday and Easter (yeah, right), we decided to peruse a few sales in our neighborhood.  I went through the sales with one item in mind:  wine glasses.  We didn’t have any.  And I wanted to make strawberries romanoff like at La Madeleine served in a nice wine glass and…well…drink wine from something other than a plastic cup.

My redneck only extends so far.

I started to feel discouraged after five or so in our neighborhood, but around the sixth one I hit the jackpot:  4 wine glasses for 25 cents each (much less than the cost one would have been in the store)!

Yes, this image from an earlier post is one of my new wineglasses!

That was definitely around my purchase price.

I know many bloggers mention keeping a price book, but I have a mental one for garage sales.  It may be a bit naive (out of date/insane), but I tend to follow the following as my max amounts:

magazines:  ten cents

paperback books:  twenty-five cents (Imagine my panic and perturbation when I saw some last Saturday selling for $5 each!  Or, rather, not selling.)

hardback books:  fifty cents, although I will go to a dollar

clothing:  fifty cents to a dollar a piece

craft supplies:  twenty-five cents to a dollar

electronics:  I think that electronics at garage sales are perhaps the best case of “let the buyer beware.”  I’ve gotten burned a few times, so I tend to shy away.

toys:  $1.00 tends to be my limit, unless it’s a big set.

DVDs:  $1.00

Dishes:  I tend not to want to go over a dollar for multiples.

When I was little, I used to go to garage sales with my dad.  Our limit was $1.00 each, and we used to come home with our arms full of stuff.  For us, it was a way to get out of the house, people watch, interact socially (you tend to see some of the same people at g-sales, and often times they will look out for stuff for you–”Hey, are you still looking for ‘x’?  I saw some at ‘y.’”), see a variety of items (It always amazed me if an item I had never seen before showed up in two or three of the same garage sales in one day), and buy stuff we wanted/needed that were out of our budget brand new.

We still have clothes that Muffin will eventually wear that I purchased at garage sales near my sister’s house before I was even sure I was having a boy (just really really REALLY hoping).

I don’t understand the “g-sale stigma” that some people have about garage sale items, such as clothing.  “I can’t stand the idea of wearing clothes someone has worn before.”  Oh, really?  How can you be sure no one tried on the clothes at the store where you just purchased them?  Or returned them before you bought them?

Grocery-wise, there were several interesting sales (involving ham, mostly), but since we will be out of town Friday-Monday, I’m not sure if I’ll partake.  I’ll do an amended grocery list when we return on Monday and will post it here.

What is your fave find at garage sales?  Or your opinion of garage sales?  Drop me a line below and let me know!

Funny Muffin Friday: A Blast Back to New Year’s Eve Past

Funny Muffin Friday

Did I mention that every New Year’s Eve we have a fiesta?  Usually the fiesta ends well before midnight (and Muffin is most definitely asleep well before midnight–as are the rest of us), but this past New Year’s Eve my two peeps and I were determined to stay up to midnight.  We managed to do it, but, as you can see in the picture below, Muffin and his dad…didn’t.

This was shortly before midnight.  They almost made it!

How do you like to ring in the New Year?  (Yes, I know it’s April, but I figured this shot was so share-able that I needed to share it)

We Plan Wednesday: Which Comes First?

We Plan Wednesday

Which does come first?  Planning the grocery list from ads and staples or planning the week’s meals?  It depends what your weekly grocery shopping entails, if you are stockpiling a loss leader (something the stores sell at a price so low that they lose money on it) or simply purchasing the items to get you through the week.

There have been weeks where I’ve been known to purchase 20 or so packages of dry pasta below 30 cents each or canned tomatoes at rock bottom prices (a case at a time).  Or last year at this time (hint, Albertson’s…it’s time to do this again) when I purchased bottles of ketchup for 29 cents a bottle.  I bought 40 of them.  I wanted a year’s supply.

(We tend to go through a lot of ketchup.  I have the gentlemen who put ketchup on their ketchup, after all.)

And then there are weeks, when Josh is working and on call, when I don’t want to be at the grocery store for very long with Muffin by myself.  And when I don’t want to have to lug groceries into the house.  For those weeks, I tend to buy only the necessities to make it through the week, the staples.  Eggs.  Milk.  Juice.  Bread.  Produce.

Regardless, my planning begins at the end of the previous month for meal planning.  I try to have a rough draft of the meal plan for the month ready in the days following the announcement of Josh’s schedule for the month.

I can count on no fingers the number of times that what is planned in that rough draft is 100% followed through the month.  Life happens.  Sales happen.  Tastes change.  Schedules (other than work) change.

On Wednesday mornings when the Big 4 circulars hit the websites (Brookshire’s, Albertson’s, Kroger, and Super 1), I make a preliminary grocery list based on the sales.  I usually don’t meld that with a more refined weekly meal plan schedule until closer to Saturday.  Just in time for shopping on Saturday and the planning for the week ahead.  By Saturday, the meal plan for the week is pretty much set.

On weeks when I’m only buying the necessities and staples (and perishables), I tend to keep meals pretty basic to ingredients I pretty much keep on hand.  (Usually with lots of leftovers)  This is usually not a week when I introduce a new recipe.

So, that’s how the planning goes, meal and shopping wise.

How do you handle it?

Tip Tuesday: Research Different Restaurants’ Menus to Try to Make Copycats of Favored Items

Tip Tuesday

Recently, I have started to crave salads.  No, I’m not pregnant.  As the mercury (or alcohol) rises (and dips and rises and dips), my body seems to be pre-programmed to want cooler items, especially salads. Just one problem:  I’m not the world’s biggest lettuce fan.  I love veggies and all the other goodies on salads, but I so am not in favor of lettuce.  Especially iceberg.  Unless it’s part of a wedge salad with blue cheese.

But I love herb mixes and spring mixes and all of those leafy mixes (and usually try to get them on reduced produce day at Brookshire’s).  Especially arugula.  I could compose a sonnet for arugula.  Or a haiku.

Oh Arugula

My tummy’s craving in emerald

Slightly spicy yum!

Recently (and this shows how eerily in tune Josh and I are), I didn’t feel like packing my lunch but was desperately hoping that a certain chicken chain notoriously closed on Sundays would have their salads ready at 6:15 in the morning (so that I could purchase that and my breakfast at the same time).  I chose their new Cobb Salad.  It was Friday of testing week.  My duty day.  A day when I felt the need for a bit more pampering.  Plus I wanted to deconstruct the salad to create at home.

It has the chopped up nuggets or strips, lettuce (a romaine mix), grape tomatoes, Monterey Jack and cheddar blend, roasted corn, chopped hard boiled egg, baby field greens mix, bacon, red cabbage, and carrots.  Let me isolate the two most important words in that list…roasted corn.  I’m not sure I can eat a salad from now on without corn, roasted or otherwise.  The salad is huge!  And I gobbled it all down.

Flash forward to Friday night when neither Josh nor I were very hungry.  I knew the cause of my lack of starvation was the salad.  I finally came clean to Josh, and he cracked up.  It turns out that he also had purchased the same salad with the same dressing (not the recommended one) for lunch at Chick-Fil-A just that day, as well.

If that’s not a sign that we are in sync, I don’t know what is.  (But I bought mine first)

On Saturday, I knew that I was making the Chick-Fil-A nuggets but simply was not feeling the idea of fries with the nuggets.  I wanted…needed…desired…salad.  With corn, roasted or otherwise.  And tomatoes.  And green onions (because we are growing them in water…and yes…it works…as will become clear in a future Tip Tuesday post).  And cheese.  And kalamata olives.  With vinaigrette.

I may have inhaled that salad as well (as in, Hoovered it…not breathed it in).

Much of my time this weekend was looking up other restaurants’ salad menus, and trying to figure out how to make them.  There are several (hundreds) that I want to try this summer.

And this all falls in line with my need to not heat up the kitchen this summer.

I gotta go now though.  I have to find more salad to devour!

Meal Plan Monday: Falling Back on Old Standbys

Meal Plan Monday

This week’s meal plan takes advantage of leftovers and quick-to-make staples.  I actually did not purchase too many groceries for the meal plan this week.  Also, for Friday-Sunday’s meal we will be at my sister’s, so the meal plan is automatic.

I think I’ve stressed the importance of leftovers in the past.  They help fill in gaps in the meal plan.  This week’s plan also takes advantage of a few convenience items (pasta sauce and prepared pesto) to rapidly make a special spaghetti sauce.  Well, Josh will make it.

Without further ado, here is the plan.

Saturday (4/12):  My version of Chick-Fil-A nuggets, salad

Sunday (4/13):  grilled buffalo and barbecue wings, cole slaw, baked beans

Monday (4/14):  spaghetti and meat sauce (Ragu+pesto+a few extra add-ins)

Tuesday (4/15):  leftover nuggets

Wednesday (4/16):  leftover spaghetti with meat sauce

Thursday (4/17):  clean out fridge/hot dogs/breakfast–whatever the feeling is

Friday (4/18):  my sister’s chicken and dumplins (at my sister’s)

Saturday (4/19):  Muffin’s (early) birthday party (pepperoni pizza in keeping with the TMNT theme)

Sunday (4/20):  Easter dinner:  fish fry (I’m bringing Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Bars)

What is on your meal plan this week?

I will be linking up at OrgJunkie’s Menu Plan Monday!

Cent Saving Saturday: Making Homemade Cordials

Cent Saving Saturday

Now let me say from the very beginning that this is not Muffin Approved.  I am not the type of parent (Is any parent really the type of parent?) to advocate feeding my child homemade cordials, or any alcoholic beverages, for that matter.

But, if you cook with alcohol (baking, flambees, etc.) it is much cheaper to make liqueurs and cordials than to purchase them.  Also, they make great gifts for alky-minded friends.

The Pinteresting Blogosphere abounds with homemade cordial and liqueur recipes.  There are numerous tomes on them, as well.  I’ve had some success with the now out-of-print Classic Liqueurs by Cheryl Long and Heather Kibbey.  I’ve actually seen copies at garage sales and book sales throughout the years.  And our public library has it, as well.

Today’s recipe has been brewing in the back of my mind for some time.  I made it fairly sweet; I’ve only tasted the original in mixed drinks in the past, so I have no idea how sweet it is.  It’s one of the liqueurs that I consider to be “cost prohibitive,” like the Grand Marniers of the world.  I’m talking about St. Germain, or elderflower liqueur.  Mine came out a bit paler, but it may be because of what I started as a base.

Back when I was using my SodaStream with annoying frequency and so NOT in love with the sodamixes (except for the “naturals” which are more expensive per serving), I had purchased a bottle of elderflower juice concentrate from IKEA in Frisco, TX (outside of Frisco) which is very VERY tart when diluted to the suggested 1:6 with soda water.  Think just barely sweetened lemonade.  But with a lovely floral quality; don’t get me wrong.

The concentrate has sat, half used, in the door of my fridge mocking me.  Because, in the back of my mind, I knew what I wanted to do with it.  I wanted to try my hand at liqueur making again, with elderflower cordial.

With no recipe to go by.

Josh knows that usually means trouble.  Usually when I come up with a recipe for something, I pull the “Tyler’s Ultimate” approach of Tyler Florence fame.  I look at many available recipes, take the best parts, and mash them all up into one.

I couldn’t quite do that here.

And, usually, this means roughly a 60% failure rate.

Therefore, for months, the elderflower concentrate continued to mock me, every time I opened the fridge.  I comforted myself with the knowledge that I didn’t have enough vodka to make it anyway.  But, I owed my mom her major Christmas present (homemade Limoncello…which I will make…once I have enough lemons…I promise, Mom!), so I purchased the big “liter and a fifth” bottle at Albertson’s of vodka.  Their brand.  With the exception of homemade Grand Marnier, you want to use cheap hooch in liqueurs.  Some people recommend using diluted grain alcohol in cordial making; I don’t have the patience (or the chemistry degree) to figure that out.

(Both are probably reasons for my 60% failure rate)

The goal was to provide a liqueur of enough body to be roughly equal to others of that type.  The kind that when sloshed in a glass leaves resinous residue.  That meant making a syrup with the elderflower concentrate.  I figured on simple syrup proportions:  equal amounts concentrate to white granulated sugar.

I guesstimated (have I mentioned that this is my one and only attempt so far?) on half cup increments of each, half a cup of elderflower concentrate and half a cup of sugar.  Then, I decided to just say to heck with it and add roughly a quarter cup of water (after realizing the concentrate was already fairly resinous to begin with).

I cooked that over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the grains of sugar were no longer visible.

Then, I poured the mixture through a funnel into an empty wine bottle (something to collect if you plan on cordial making…especially screw top wine bottles).  I then filled the bottle halfway with vodka, capped it, shook it, and then topped it up with the vodka, capped it, and shook it, trying to disperse the syrup.

To test the viscosity, I poured a tablespoon or so into a wineglass (that I purchased today at garage sales for 25 cents each!) and swirled it around.  To my utter delight, there was the telltale resinous residue!  Result!  I then did something you should never never do:  I taste tested it.  Most liqueurs take some time to meld and blend (coffee liqueur is notorious for this…imagine coffee-flavored mouthwash…well…minus the mint flavor), so the vodka flavor is usually very pungent.  To tell you the truth, it wasn’t that bad.  There is already (hiccup!) some evidence of the complexity to come.  If St. Germain is anything close to this, I can understand why liquor outlets feel confident charging upwards of $30 a bottle (that’s for less than a liter, by the way).

The cost breakdown of mine is (considerably) less.  I used a fourth of a bottle of elderflower concentrate (so $1.13 for that), a half cup of sugar (pennies…but lets just say ten cents to be obstinate), a quarter cup of water (I’m not figuring out the cost of filtered tap for this amount, sorry), and roughly 15 ounces of store-brand vodka that I purchased for roughly $10 for 1.75 liters (roughly $2.54 worth, give or take a penny).  Ultimately, the grand total for the homemade version was $3.77.  One of the prices quoted for St. Germain online was $33.99.  The “homemade” version would save you $30+…nearly 90%.

That’s the kind of math I like.

I’m glad it worked so well the first time out of the gate because I could now be upset about wasting $3.77 of materials, especially that last 1/4 of the elderflower concentrate that I had such great plans for…someday.  Here’s an (admittedly not very effective) shot of the tablespoon of liqueur in one of my new wine glasses!

(The important part is that you can see the resinous residue on the side of the glass!)

Cheers!

You may see the printable of the recipe here.

Funny Muffin Friday: A Castle for Sofia the First

Funny Muffin Friday

Yes, that Sofia.  The new Disney princess.  I think my not-quite-four-year-old son has a crush on her.  When I arrived at my parents’ house to pick him up on Friday afternoon (last Friday), I was greeted to the following sights:

I was informed that the “Cass-Sull” was for Sofia.  It was her “cass-sull.”

He built it all himself!