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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Not an Extreme Couponer? It's Okay

I recently read a blog post on Living Rich with Coupons urging those new to couponing not to compare themselves to the shoppers that have been featured on The TLC show "Extreme Couponing."  I know everyone would like to save 95%-100% on their groceries, but who wants a pantry full of mustard and cereal?  How can you make meals and feed your family well by buying enormous amounts of things that more than likely you won't use?  And how can you feed your family well by buying boxed, canned and frozen food full of sodium and other not so good for you things?
Don't get me wrong... I use coupons, every week and I do save... at least 50% on my groceries and more on my health and beauty items but I don't spend hours and hours cutting and sorting coupons, or hours and hours matching sales with the coupons for multiple stores.  This IS what I do:

Buy Multiple Newspapers
That's right I said buy, not steal.  I get my papers at a local convenience store on Saturday because then I have time to plan for the next week's shopping trip.  I buy at least 3 of the same paper since most stores won't let you use more than 4 coupons for the same item.  Taking papers from neighbors' or from houses that may or may not be unoccupied or even dumpster diving is wrong and more than likely illegal.

Use a coupon website 
By this I mean a site like www.couponmom.com that will have a list of stores (CVS, Rite Aid, Target, Dollar General, Family Dollar etc.) that will have the coupons and deals matched for you.  All you need to do (after registering) is select the store, read through the deals, and check off which ones you want.  Then select and print.  It makes it so simple and cuts down on the time you spend cross matching your coupons and sales, even though I look through my ads just in case to make sure I didn't miss anything.  This particular site doesn't include my local grocery store so there is a little bit of work matching up their deals.  Another site that I use is www.livingrichwithcoupons.com  I follow her on twitter and liked her on facebook.  She has lots of great information and "heads up" on deals from all over the internet.  There are also websites that offer coupons and sometimes they offer really good ones and sometimes not so much.  By the time you figure in your ink and paper I'm not sure it's really worth it, plus different sites will offer the same coupons.

Use a Simple System
When I get my inserts the first thing I do is to put all the like ones together out of the different papers: smart source, red plum etc.
Then I clear off my table.  I take the first insert and lay it out page by page.  Then I take the next (like) insert and lay those on the first ones and so on and so on.  Then when it's time to cut you can cut them all at the same time.  I pile them up by category then put them in envelopes in an accordion folder, sorted by the aisles in the store.  When it's time to make the list I can go through the coupons which are in order of the way the store is laid out.  For example first is produce, then seafood, then meat and so on, then I write the list the same way.  When it's time to go to the store I get out each category and match it to the store and put in a store envelope with the list.  It's a simple system but so far it works and will continue to evolve as I come across other ways to do it.  But I can't stress enough how keeping it simple will make it so much more pleasant and less stressful.

Don't Do More Than Two Transactions
Nothing gives couponers a bad name faster than someone in line with 3 or 4 carts wanting to check them out separately to use coupons or to get a special deal.  My daughter works at our local grocery store and says that checkers get very irritated with people who clog up the line with multiple transactions.  I know I've had someone behind me that has gotten irritated at Rite Aid and slammed down their 2 deodorants only to be told that the next line was open.  And I've also had someone behind me at Walmart that was pleased when she saw the stack of coupons I handed the cashier.  "The only way to shop", she said.
Just to make everything simpler and less stressful for me and other shoppers I'll do a max of two transactions, which will usually be for a special deal or coupon in the store flyer.  More than likely whatever the deal is (usually soda or something similar) whatever I get in the two transactions will be enough to last until the next sale.

Stock Up When Possible
When I say "stock up" it doesn't mean clear the shelves or buy enough in case of a nuclear holocaust (I'll never forget one of the husband's on Extreme Couponing who said if there was ever a disaster they would be in the basement eating cake mix.  Now that sounds YUMMY!) but what I mean is taking advantage of the sale within the coupon policy of the store.  If you have more than the limit of coupons (usually 4) use the 4 and then go back later in the week.  I just don't see the sense in 70 bottles of mustard but I can see the practicality of having multiple packs of T.P and paper towels, they don't expire and nothing is worse than running out of something essential like that.

 I coupon to feed my family and to save money.  I coupon to stock up on things that we will use or that I can donate to my local food bank.  These are the strategies that work for me.  When I can cut my food bill in half or more then I think I'm doing something right.
Want to share a money saving strategy using coupons or not?


Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Cooking From the Garden Recipe-Bruschetta Pizza

As part of Summer Fest on FN Dish (Food Network's blog) I thought I would share this easy, delicious way to use up those garden fresh tomatoes.

I'm sure you've heard of bruschetta, a cold topping for crusty bread made from tomatoes, olive oil and basil.  And I know that you've heard of pizza, but have you ever heard of putting the two together?

Once the tomatoes are plentiful in the garden it comes to wrack your brain to come up with new and exciting ways to use all the fresh produce.  Bruschetta pizza just might be the answer.

Slice one large baguette of bread into slices and place it into a 450 degree oven, toast the bread until golden brown then flip it over and brown the other side. This can also be done in a skillet coated with olive oil.  Once the bread is done, set it aside but leave the oven on.

Heat a skillet up with some olive oil (I use my electric skillet but I use it for just about everything) about 2-4 tablespoon depending on how much you're making. Dice one medium onion and add it to the skillet and season with salt and pepper.  Add two cloves of garlic minced and cook until soft and aromatic.  At this point you can add the tomatoes -- cherry, romas or grape, doesn't matter, just be sure to slice them so the fit on the bread easily.  Once the tomatoes are soft and the onions and garlic are cooked, turn off the heat and add the torn basil.
Spoon the mixture onto the toasted bread




and top with provolone or mozzarella cheese and place back in the oven for the cheese to melt.


Simple and so delicious.  Great for lunch or even as an appetizer while you're waiting for the grilling to be done.  This can all be done on the BBQ grill too.

Got a "cooking from the garden" recipe?  Feel free to share.
If not, why not check the recipes from the other contributors to Summer Fest. They just might have the recipe you've been looking for.

 Big Girls Small Kitchen:Seared Chicken with Cherry Tomato Pan Sauce

What’s Gaby Cooking:  Zebra Tomato and Burrata Crostini
Glory Foods: Glory Foods
Dishin and Dishes:  Tomato Tart Tatin
I Am Mommy:  Tomato Crudite
Sweet Life Bake:  Salsa Cruda
Mooshu Jenne: Sun Burst Tomato Pasta
Cooking With Elise: Tomato Parmesan Biscuits
Fritos and Foie Gras:  Tomato Terrine
Creative Culinary: Fresh and Savory Tomato Pie
Spices and Aroma:  Quick and Easy Paneer Curry

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Cinder Block Garden


Our garden is finally coming in -- lettuce, broccoli, basil, tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower and peppers and hopefully more to follow.  We've already enjoyed several salads from the leaf lettuce -- nothing better or fresher than lettuce out of your garden.  Now I'm hoping to put in a berry patch -- already started with some blueberries.


When you live in a rural area and use a septic (which we had to have put in brand new) instead of a public sewer system where you can put your garden in can be limited.  Your garden needs to be far enough from the leach field so it doesn't contaminate your vegetables.  The leach field is the most expensive part of the whole septic system so you don't want to plant anything near it that might have deep roots like trees or shrubs.  We just moved into this house in February (yes moving in winter in Upstate NY - not the best idea) so this garden is an experiment for us.


The Easiest Way to Start
In order for us to get a garden in right away we used cinder blocks that we found on the property and filled them with top soil.  We bought seeds and started them ourselves using Jiffy pots we bought at Lowes (see blog post Seed Starting Experiment  3/30 for a review Jiffy seed starting kit) such as herbs and bought plants for lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and zucchini.  Bought lettuce plants because they don't transplant well from seed (could sow them directly into the garden) and since we have such a short season we bought the other plants to give them a head start.


I'm not sure if other gardeners are like me, but I tend to over buy, I buy too many plants and too many seeds (just started some heirloom tomatoes that are suppose to do well in my area) so when it comes time to plant I have to keep expanding my garden.  By using cinder blocks this is easy to do and economical (we had them around the property) and can be bought at a home improvement center for about $1 a piece, just remember they can get heavy if you buy a lot of them at one time.  If you would like an easy way to weed or harvest, stack the blocks as high as you need, just remember the higher you go the more soil you'll need.  Using cinder block will make short work of getting your garden started:

FIRST
Decide where the best place for your garden will be, by seeing where it fits into your landscape (taking obstacles like a septic into consideration), where it will get the right kind of sun and how you easily get water to it.  Another consideration for me: how far is it from the house.  If it's a long trek to the garden I'm not as likely to give it the attention it deserves.

SECOND
Lay the cinder blocks out in the configuration that works best for you.  Remember you can always add on so make sure your configuration allows you to do so.  Also make sure you leave enough room between beds to walk through.  Nothing hurts worse than scraping your bare skin on a concrete cinder block.  Once your formation is established then fill them with soil and plant.
Mark filling another bed.  Notice the muck boots.


Square Foot My Way
The cinder blocks we used have a large opening in the middle, which was good for larger plants like tomatoes or broccoli and smaller holes around the outside of the block that's good for herbs and lettuces, giving us a choice on how we want to plant.


Broccoli

Basil

San Marzano tomato


I guess you could say this is a version of square foot gardening. We can get a lot of plants into a small space making it "intensive: and it seems to be working so far.  There is minimal need for weeding and it makes it a little less appealing to squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits --my motto: plant 2 for me and 1 for the critters.

It might not be the prettiest garden but it works and we'll probably do it the same way again next year, but we'll take our time and set them in an interesting arrangement and add fencing and other doodads to decorate it with.  Right now I'm happy with fresh lettuce for salads and herbs for cooking and look with anticipation to the tomatoes and other fresh veggies.  There's nothing better than cooking from the garden and as things come in (Some time in August I'll be overrun) I'll be sharing recipes using my garden ingredients.

Have a unique garden?
Want to share a cooking from the garden recipe?












Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Lovely Lunch of Local Cheese

Recently my family and I spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon on a farm tour at a local dairy farm in Saratoga County.  It was called Sundae on the Farm and was held on Father's day.  We went from booth to booth watching sheep shearing, goat milking and spinning.  We also took in a cooking demonstration and then headed over to the farmer's market.  All the offerings there were from local farms and craftspeople.  I have developed a real love of goat's cheese lately so I couldn't pass up this booth, along with goat's cheese he also made mozzarella.  And the booth across from his, Willow Marsh Farm,  was laden with cheddars (another weakness of mine) of all different flavors.
The cheese on the left is the goat cheese (the black is ash) the center is garlic cheddar (to die for) and the cheese on the right is truffle cheese.  After spending the day in the sun, smelling the smells of the cows and being dazzled by the farmers and craftspeople, we decided to come home and make a lovely lunch out our local cheese.

Have a favorite cheese?
Got a twist on the traditional cheese plate?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

MarkBernardPhotography's photostream

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All photos here were taken by Mark Bernard Photography and prints are available for purchase

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pierogies- A Quick and Inexpensive Lunch

Recently I found coupons for Mrs. T's Pierogies and a sales for buy one get one free so I decided to stock up.  What are pierogies?  They are little dumplings made of potato that might have different fillings or flavorings in them.  So far I've tried the spinach and feta cheese and today I had sour cream and chives.

Sour cream and chive pierogies sauteed with garlic and olive oil


The best way to make them (I've found) is to boil them in boiling salted water until they float then heat up olive oil in a saute pan (with garlic) and saute them until then brown a little.
If you serve them with steamed vegetables or a salad, it makes a complete and healthy meal.  You could use them as you would pasta too or in a stir fry.  Truly economical and delicious!!

Have you eaten pierogies?  Do you have a special way to prepare them?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Just a little Thanks!

The last few days on my blog have been amazing and surprising.  I've been getting more and more visitors from all over.  I do have to say it makes me smile!  So thank you to those who have stopped by, left comments or just took the time to see what my blog is all about, I really appreciate it.
I try to come up with new and interesting things to write about-- so this blog is evolving (I hope) into something that all of you will continue to enjoy!

Thanks again!
Comments?  Suggestions?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What I like about Wilton NY

I'm not one to do lists.  In fact I don't really like them but this is the best way I can think of to tell you some of the best things about Wilton NY.  Where is Wilton NY, you might ask?  Well that is a little hard to say since some of it is actually in Saratoga Springs and some of it in is Gansvoort, the mailing address are anyway.  Wilton is between Saratoga and Gansvoort but is a town all its own.  Here are some of the things that I think make Wilton special

1. The Wilton Wildlife Preserve
Home to the Blandings turtle and the Karner Blue Butterfly, these 2,300 acres of land: Neilmann parcel, Camp Saratoga, the Fox parcel, Opdahl Farm and Old Gick Farm make up the Wilton Wildlife Preserve.

-- The Opdahl Farm is comprised of an old family farm that was in operation from 1936-1972 but now is the home of the Karner Blue Butterfly (more about this later) with flat and well cared for trails.  The farm is 43 acres and a photographer's dream with meadows, the old barn and silo and wildflowers.

--Camp Saratoga is made of woodlands,  wetlands, streams and a pond.  This parcel offers trout fishing in Delegan Pond and wildlife spotting like turtles, herons, belted Kingfishers and beavers.

-- Old Gick Farm is home to the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly (another opportunity to see one) and the threatened elfin butterfly and other species that are of concern like the spadefoot toad and the eastern hognose snake and according to their website there is the possibility of seeing a moose at the overlook near the Delegan Brook.  This parcel allows horseback riding along with hunting and fishing during open seasons.

-- Fox parcel is 89 acres that has mowed trails that are gently rolling with wet areas.

--The Neilmann parcel is 145 acres that is primarily wooded and includes part of Miller Swamp-- the largest wetlands in Wilton.  If you want to walk the trails be sure to bring plenty of bug spray, there are LOTS of mosquitoes!

2  The Karner Blue Butterfly
The Wilton Wildlife Preserve is one of the few home of the Karner Blue Butterfly. This tiny blue butterfly with a row of orange half moons on its wings is on the state and federal list of endangered species.  The Wildlife Preservs areas like Opdahl Farm and Old Gick Farm have been transformed into the perfect  breeding ground for these tiny creatures with sandy soil and blue lupine's-- the butterflies host plant.

3.  Camp Saratoga (Delegan Pond)
Delegan Pond is a trout fishing pond that is located in the 310 acres of Camp Saratoga.  Hunting and fishing are allowed in season.  Fishing requires a license and is limited to children 16 and under until July 1st, which makes a great trip for the little ones and opportunity to catch the BIG ONE!  Adults can fish after July 1st (2 fish limit) as long as no live bait is used.

4.  Camp Saratoga (Picnic Facilities)
Camp Saratoga is more than fishing and nature trails.  There are also picnic tables, pavilions and cabins.

5.  Park Fest
Another park in Wilton is Gavin Park.  Not so much a recreational park (no fishing or trails) but more of a community park.  Every year they host what's called Park Fest.  This year it will be on Saturday July 9th.  It will include a 1k and a 5k run, amusement park rides, craft and food vendors and a fireworks display at dusk.  Not only can you have a fun filled day but you can help a worth cause by dropping off a non-perishable food item for the Wilton Food Pantry.  Gavin Park is located off of Jones Rd in Wilton.

6.  Gavin Park
Not only is it the home of Park Fest,  Gavin Park also has after school programs, summer camps, gymnasium, game room, soccer fields, basketball courts, tennis courts and batting cages that are available for a fee.

7.   Carnival at Wilton Mall  
The Kiwanis Carnival is held in the parking lot of the Wilton Mall.  This year it was held from June 9th until June 11th.  The carnival included rides, games, food and live performances.  The atmosphere is very family friendly and is great for those with small children.

8.  The Meathouse
The Meathouse is a fabulous butcher shop with a small town feel.  Great customer service (which makes it one of my favorites) delicious meat and local products like Oscar's Smokehouse sausages and Ice Cream Man cakes.  Great place to get the fixin's for a picnic.

9.  Shopping
You can't talk about Wilton without talking about the Wilton Mall which includes clothing stores like J.C Penney's, Bon Ton and Sears along with music stores, a pet store restaurants, hair salons and many others.  But that's not the only shopping in Wilton.  There is Bed Bath and Beyond, Five Below, Best Buy, T.J. Maxx and Pier One to name a few.

10.  History
Wilton might seem like an unlikely place to find historical landmarks but if you head to Mt. McGregor you can find the cottage where President Grant spent his last days.  Grant was ill with throat cancer when he, his family, servants and doctors came to Wilton.  The cottage is open to the public and contains original furnishings, decorations and personal items including the bed that Grant died in.  thee is also a gift shop and Visitor's Center.  From the Eastern outlook you can see a spectacular view of the Hudson Valley, the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains and the Catskills.
As you drive around Wilton you will historical markers like the one for the Battle of Wilton which was fought during the French and Indian War.

Well, that's my list.  If you've been to any of these places in Wilton NY please feel free to comment.  Or if you know of other places that would of interest let me know.