August 18, 2009

Good Eating in Hard Times

Let's get something straight before we start: I don't like to cook. As home chores go, I prefer laundry. But, with a husband and three kids, we can't afford to eat out all the time, either, even at "family" restaurants, like Dixie Cafe.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Dixie Cafe, anyway. Eating there kind of reminds me of eating at my granny's house. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure my granny could feed a field full of hay-hauling teenagers for what it costs to feed a family of five at Dixie Cafe. At Dixie Cafe, for $8.79, I can get "platter" or chicken fried steak, two vegetables and a bread. Instead, I make this at home, and it doesn't take much longer than making the kids presentable, driving across town, waiting for a table, placing an order and getting food. Even if your cooking skills are minimal, you can do this.

I buy "country fried steak" in a box of 10, with two packages of white gravy at Sam's Club for about $11. Those taste great baked in the oven in cast-iron skillet. And, let's be real: that is the same chicken-fried steak that most restaurants serve anyway. If you put half of that in the freezer for another night, so far our cost is about $6.50.

Buy a bag of potatoes for $4-$5. Scrub them, and cut them up and put them on to boil. When they get done, "mash" them with the mixer, peelings and all. Add a couple of tablespoons of butter, a glug of milk, and a dab of salt. Or, do it the easy way with instant potatoes. With the white gravy, no one will be able to tell the difference anyway, especially if you use real butter. So far, we are still less than $10 total expense to feed a family of five a meal.

Add your favorite fresh or frozen vegetable, and a bag of rolls. You are still less than $15, and the only thing you really had to cook were the potatoes.

Add a gallon of sweet tea from Kroger and you are good.


August 15, 2009

Pound that Bride

Getting married is so expensive. It's a wonder anyone can get hitched at all, especially in these lean times. Not that you'd know it watching "reality" television - ever clicked past Bridezilla? There's a perfect example of folks with too little to spend trying too hard to spend it anyway. What a train wreck. No wonder those poor women are 'zillas.

I say place the emphasis on getting a house and filling it up. Looking back (waaaay back) I remember jumping through the fiery hoops of bridal shower etiquette to receive scads of presents I hardly ever used. Nothing like eating mac and cheese on the Lennox china for a year.

My old roommate in college was from a tiny speck of a town down in southern Arkansas. She lived so far out in the sticks that, if I remember correctly, her summer job was baling hay. When she decided to marry (far below her, as many educated country gals do) the whole town gave the wedding couple an old fashioned pounding.

No, they weren't beaten with sticks. Pounding Parties go way back, especially in the country where folks had no need of fine things and great need for everyday survival. Sharing from the Heart: Tips from a Crone defines it simply,
This custom dates back to pioneer days, and was practiced widely. I don't know its origins, but it's something we should continue today.

When a couple got married and set up housekeeping, it was customary to have a "pounding party". This meant that each guest brought a pound of something: flour, salt, butter — whatever was needed to stock a house — in order to give their friends a good start on their new life.

My old roommate's Pounding Party was a whole-community event where tables groaned with covered-dish specialties and kids ran everywhere. She and her lousy husband-to-be received boxes and grocery bags full of cleaning supplies, mops, canned goods, and rice. There were also plenty of envelopes stuffed with small bills - always a handy gift for couples just starting out.

One woman even presented her with a whole sack of daylilly bulbs dug fresh from her own garden that very morning. Can you imagine anything sweeter?

It was a big party and when it was over, they had everything but the house to set up house. They were also woven into the fabric of her hometown. What a lovely way to begin, even with a bum.

(Want to throw an old-fashioned Pounding Party? E-How has a nice list to get you started. )

From Monda at No Telling, who's had a couple of really nice weddings herself.

August 9, 2009

Back-to-School Savvy

You don't have to be a kid to benefit from the dramatic loss leaders that populate most back-to-school sales. I take advantage of them every year to stock up on my own office supplies. Fine line colored markers, for example, are always handy to have around and you can't beat a buck or so for a set of Crayola's that are normally $2-3 the rest of the year.

Here are some other tips on getting the most out of back to school sales:

  • Holiday and birthday gifts. The artists in your lives, young or old, will enjoy receiving new markers, drawing pencils, sharpeners, and so on, all of which can be had for pennies this time of year. Go ahead, make up an arts supply basket even.

  • Stocking stuffers. Load up those 25 cent boxes of crayola crayons and dollar marker sets now--loved ones will enjoy finding them in their stockings.

  • Birthday party favors. I discovered this one years ago, as both my kids have birthdays in August, prime back-to- school deal time. School supplies, most of which can be had for pocket change this time of year, make great birthday party favors. Even if your kid's birthday is in February, pick up a baker's dozen of crayolas, pencils and mini-compositions books now, tuck them away (remember where you put them though) and you'll be all set to fill those goody bag with fun, useful items with party time rolls around. Besides, parents will thank you for sparing them the clutter of another noisemaker or cheap plastic yo-yo. (P.S. Keep an eye out for five for a dollar pencil cases, and you can even substitute them for the party bags themselves.)

(By StephanieV, who blogs at Wordamour)

August 4, 2009

Wondering when it's time to say good-bye.

Last week, one of my favorite bracelets broke as I was putting together the perfect look. I gathered its many parts from all over the floor and left them in a small, discrete pile atop my dresser, where they've been sitting ever since. Do I throw them out, or do I try and repair/restring the bracelet? If the bracelet is made of pearls and handed down from your great-grandmother, then the answer is fairly obvious.

But what if it's a 15-dollar faux coral number picked up on sale at Nordstroms?

It's a dilemma I face all the time--whether to spend the time and energy on repairing something that is past its prime, or whether I sacrifice it to the gods of consumerism. There's that beautiful orange leather bag that everyone so admired but that is now really beginning to show its age; there are those delicately-pointed shoes that make my ankles look like a girls' but whose heels are run down and uneven; there's that sweater in the same shade of blue as my eyes that also has an ugly moth hole on the front placket.

I'm a modern girl, on the run. I'm not made of money, but surely I've got enough to replace a worn purse, down and out shoes, and a holey sweater? Things may be tight, but I don't want to look like a Dorothea Lange photo.

One of my most prized possessions is a stack of love letters written by my grandparents to one another during the summer before they married. The year was 1935, and times were hard all over--but especially in the rural South. Turning one of these letters over, you can see that my grandmother has written her endearments on the back of an old homework assignment--a fairly well-rendered cell diagram. Grade? A+.

It's hard to imagine now, but when my grandparents were corresponding, even paper and pens were hard to come by. Only the rich, foolish, or wasteful could afford to send a letter with blank pages on the back. I know from their contents that my grandmother wrote her letters with a tiny stub of pencil, hidden from her sisters and sharpened with a kitchen knife.

This letter is my favorite, because, while I might be persuaded that my kindly, country grandma had once been someone's note-writing inamorata, it's almost impossible for me to imagine her ever having any inkling of the concepts of molecular biology. This document would likely not have survived, had it not been on the reverse of one of her love letters. But because it has, I have a more complete picture of my grandmother--as a girl in love, a scholar, a labeler of ribosomes and mitochondria.

Oddly enough, I think of this whenever I make an old favorite ready for another run around the block. A little saddle soap to remove the ink from a leather purse, a trip to the shoe repair shop to resole my shoes, and both are--if not quite good as new--perhaps good enough to see me through another semester. A pretty floral applique covers a moth hole. Obviously, none of these compare with the level of frugality my grandmother knew, but will any survive me and give future generations a picture of the woman who once owned them?

Probably not.

But you never know. Someday my great-granddaughter may find the bracelet I've restrung with a strand of dental floss. She'll hold it up for her own children to see, and she'll say, "Great-grandma had lovely taste in costume jewelry. You can see how she restrung this herself, back in the recession of 09. Of course, this would have been back when she still had all her own teeth."

image, Ibison4's Flickr photostream.

Posted by Deb, who blogs mostly regular at