Wednesday, February 24, 2010

this week's haul + shopping special events

Today's quidquid jam:

Here's what $7 and change bought me at Publix this week!

8 cans Green Giant corn
6 Pillsbury crescent rolls
4 cans Progresso Light soup
2 cans Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes
2 loaves Coles frozen garlic bread
2 Smart Balance spreads
3 cloves garlic
1 orange
$7.23 OOP (saved $44.67)

Did we need 2 giant loaves of garlic bread and 6 cans of crescent rolls? Probably not. But I am a bread fiend and it is always nice to have such things on hand for blah nights and spontaneous dinner parties. Aaaaand they were cheap.

This week and next week, Publix is having their big Viva Italia promotion. Basically, they've got a bunch of Italian-type stuff on sale this week, and a corresponding flier with store coupons for the sale items. Included on the flier is a coupon for $5 off when you buy 20 participating sale items.

Sound complicated? It is...kind of. I think part of the reason they make some of these promotions so complicated is to increase the chances that you will mess it up somehow and buy a bunch of stuff and not get the savings you're supposed to. But this isn't rocket science! Here are a few tips for navigating special sales events:

Plan! When you're dealing with a sale, multiple coupons, and a certain number of qualifying items to buy, you have to know exactly what you expect to buy when you walk in the door. Southern Savers's weekly ads posts have an awesome feature that allows you to generate shopping lists with coupon matchups, which makes planning really simple. For promotions like Viva Italia that require you to buy a certain number of qualifying items, it's good to have a few alternates/backup plans in case some of the items you're after are out of stock.

Organize the coupons you'll be using before you go. It is such a pain in the ass to juggle a huge stack of coupons while you try to find all the items on your list. I like to fold my shopping list in half and tuck my coupons into it. I organize my coupons in the order the items appear on the list so I know where everything is. This comes in handy when it's time to

Shop carefully. As you go through your list, pull your coupons for each item as you put it in your cart. Double check: is the coupon valid for the item you're getting? Is the item valid for the promotion you're doing? Is it marked with the price you were expecting? Are there as many items in stock as you need? As I place each item in the cart, I separate the coupon(s) I will be using for that item from the stack so I can keep track of what to give to the cashier and what to stick in my purse to take home and return to the coupon box.

Make your green bags do double duty. It is really frustrating to have to keep track of all 20 (or more!) of the qualifying items in your cart. Use your green bags to separate the qualifying items from the rest of the stuff in your cart--count 5 or 10 items into each bag. This way you'll be able to verify that you bought enough qualifying items at a glance.

Be your cashier's BFF. Being a cashier at a grocery store is not a super fun and rewarding job, so you have to kind of sympathize with cashiers that are less than enthused about your stack of coupons. When you roll up to the checkout with a huge stack of coupons, there are a few things you can do to make your cashier's life easier. Say hi and smile. Tell them that you've got some coupons when you start putting groceries on the belt, not after they've given you the total. If you're doing a promotion with a certain number of qualifying items, point it out to them before they start scanning. Group the qualifying items in bunches of 5 so they are easier to count. If you're expecting a certain discount (like $5 off when you buy 20), keep your eyes peeled. Look at your receipt before you walk away. Did you get what you were expecting? If you didn't, or if your cashier is rude or weird about your coupons, don't hesitate to head over to customer service.

Publix's Viva Italia sale is running through the beginning of March, so you can try your hand at the madness yourself! Hot tip: the Muir Glen tomatoes (free after coupons) and the Green Giant canned veggies (.14 after coupons) are the best values in the promotion.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sunday dinner: baked chicken legs, Brussels sprouts, crash hot orange potatoes

First of all, I think we need a little inspirational blog-readin' music.

Alabama, Arkansas, I do love my Ma and Pa
Not the way that I do love you

Now that we're all instilled with a rush of wide-eyed optimism, let's talk about wholesome things like old friends and Sunday dinners.

Nick and Lanier and I have Sunday dinner together every Sunday. Lani and I have always liked mandatory, scheduled fun like this. From eighth grade until we graduated from high school, Lanier and I spent every. single. Thursday together, lounging around the Waffle House or the park or the mall or my house, eating grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup or Velveeta mac and cheese, gossiping in our trademark light-speed clip. When Lanier moved to Atlanta last fall and we were living in the same city for the first time since 2001, we fell into the Sunday night tradition almost immediately. Sunday night at my house has always promised a big dinner and The Simpsons and a glass of wine or two, and so Lanier and Phinny fit right into the routine.

Now I look forward to Sunday night to be my big night for fixing needlessly elaborate dinners. Lanier has Celiac disease, so all of our Sunday dinners are gluten-free. Exhibit A--Breakfast for Dinner 10 Jan 2010:

[clockwise from top]: homemade fruit salad, fried chicken and waffles, roasted potatoes, breakfast casserole. Lanier had gluten-free waffles.

This Sunday found me in a conundrum. What should I fix? I poked around the kitchen and found a bag of red potatoes ($1.99 for 5 lbs last week at Kroger), a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts (bought last week at Publix for a song--less than .50) three enormous seasoned chicken legs I had picked up at Kroger a month or so ago when they were on manager's special for $3.00.

I was reminded of a few recipes I had been meaning to try out. I read a bunch of food blogs on my Google Reader, and I had starred Simply Recipe's Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe and Dutch Girl Cooking's recipe for Hot Crash Orange Potatoes. Voila! Sunday dinner solved.

I have only recently been learning my way around chicken with bones in it. Having been vegetarian for my formative years and being married to a man whose enthusiasm for meat is as minimal as mine, it has not really been necessary for me to learn how to cook scary-looking chicken parts like legs. That is, until I realized that scary-looking chicken parts go on sale for $1/lb or less. And that bone-in chicken looks really impressive when you cook it. Being not-so-knowledgeable about fixing chicken parts that are not breasts, I consulted Simply Recipe's Classic Baked Chicken recipe for guidelines on how long to bake it.

before it went in

when it came out! golden and delicious

The Hot Crash Orange Potatoes were slightly less daunting. You basically boil some small potatoes (I used red potatoes since I had them handy), smash them a little with a masher, spoon on some of this amazing butter/orange zest/parsley/garlic mixture, and bake until crispy. Pretty idiot-proof.

Before it went into the oven

How it's supposed to look when it's done

How it actually looked when it came out

The Brussels sprouts were a bit more of a gamble. My father used to grow Brussels sprouts in his garden, and I remembered them being delicious, if not a little bitter. The recipe called for fresh Brussels sprouts to be roasted in the oven. But I had frozen Steamfresh Brussels sprouts, which meant I had to switch things up a little. I steamed the sprouts in their bag in the microwave for the minimum amount of time recommended by the directions. Then I sauteed them instead of roasting them. The recipe says the key is salt, so I salted the hell out of those suckers.

Sauteing in some olive oil with garlic and lemon juice and lots of salt

How it's supposed to look when it's done

How it actually looked

All in all, a rousing success!!


Lanier noms on a sprout.

The chicken was moist and perfectly done. The Hot Crash Orange Potatoes were fantastic--the orange flavor is so unexpected. When I fix them again, I'll use smaller potatoes and a little more butter sauce--they were a little bland.

But the big winner of the night were the Brussel sprouts. Nick and Lanier were both skeptical about the Brussels sprouts but had to agree that they were amazing. The lemon juice gave them an incredible brightness, and the salt somehow perfectly cancels the bitterness out. I wanted to eat the entire pan. There wasn't a single one left at the end of the night.

I saved the tasty seasoned drippings from the bottom of the roasting pan, three or four leftover potatoes, and the bones/leftovers from the chicken. Throw it in the crock pot with a little chicken broth and some veggies and we've got tomorrow night's dinner! I actually meant to do that today and completely forgot.

I'll leave you with one little lagniappe! My Mardi Gras tablescape:

Silver tray (wedding gift from Aunt Grace and Uncle Larry); glassware left over from wedding candy buffet; Mardi Gras beads caught by yours truly, soy candle I poured into a vintage restaurant sugar packet caddy; Glade candle from last week's CVS run; multicolored garland scored at Target after Christmas clearance for $0.20 for like ten million yards

Sunday, February 21, 2010

DOs and DON'Ts of Mardi Gras

DO watch the parades with the people you love! You can gossip when the parade runs late or gets stuck for an hour.

Best Valentine's Day ever. Nick and Katie, Bacchus 2010.

Congrats to Ashley and Dave, who just got engaged! Bacchus 2010.

Me, Ashley, and Joe. Endymion 2007. [We missed you so much this year, Joe!!]

DON'T get stuck without a beverage!

Ashley and Katie drinking rum and Coke. Mine is spiked with whiskey. Endymion 2010.

Nick double-fistin' Miller Lite, approximately 2392148 more in the backpack. Endymion 2007.

The newest Mardi Gras technology: premixed margaritas in a pouch. Like a Capri Sun, except with booze. Mar-GO-rita is a local New Orleans company that makes an excellent product. PERFECT for stashing in a cooler or backpack for a parade. Remember, DON'T bring glass containers--the cops will not be pleased and will ask you to get rid of it. Been there, done that.

DO look out for celebrities! You never know who will come rolling down the street.

Observe a reverent silence. You are in the presence of Breesus. Bacchus 2010.

Ashley and me and JOURNEY! Endymion 2007

DON'T, in the name of all that is holy, put your children on top of a six-foot ladder to watch the parade. You would think that this would be common sense. You would be wrong.

Kids perched precariously on ladders for some reason. Endymion 2007.

The controversial issue of ladders brings us right to my next point. DO pick a side of the street and commit to it. Passionately. Once you've decided where your heart lies, represent your side with an awesome teeshirt from Fleurty Girl:

I'm a sidewalk sider to the bone. Too many ladders on the neutral ground side!

Note to non-New Orleanians: 'Neutral ground' is the New Orleans term for the median. There are special New Orleans words for everything.

DON'T get on your drunk friend's shoulders unless you are willing to return home with fewer teeth than you left with.

DO add a little spirit to your neighbor's photos:

Ashley and Dave get photobombed by wonderful hippie man. Endymion 2010.

DON'T stand too close to the street when a marching band is coming, or you will get whacked in the face by a swinging trombone and everyone will laugh at you.

The marching bands are my favorite part. Bacchus 2010.

DO greet your neighbors with the customary salutation: WHO DAT

Who Dat Nation says yeah. Bacchus 2010.

DON'T roll up to a big parade five minutes before it's supposed to start. Especially when you brought 20 or 30 family members. You won't be able to find a spot and will end up provoking rage in the people you crowd:

Worst Mardi Gras neighbors EVER. Flambeaux in background. Bacchus 2010.

For the best throws, DO try to make eye contact with someone on the float. Wave your hands around and smile and shout THROW ME SOMETHIN MISTER!!! DON'T flash, especially if you are Uptown. You'll just look silly. DON'T pick beads up off the ground--it's bad luck.

Gorgeous float. Bacchus 2010.

A fatty strand of pink beads! Bacchus 2010.

Whew. That's all I can think of for now. What did I leave off?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

in which the bright lights of Biloxi threaten to set my soul on fire

Last Friday afternoon found me in a panic. Nick and I were supposed to leave for New Orleans (by way of Biloxi) after work, but there were two inches of snow on the ground and more falling. This wouldn't have been a huge problem if basically the entire state of Alabama hadn't been dumped with something like SIX inches of snow that morning, which meant our entire route was likely to be iced over/impassable. In places with normal climates that are used to getting snow, the roads would be plowed or salted or whatever lickety split and everyone would be on their way, but I had serious doubts as to whether or not Alabama contained a single salt truck or snow plow. I had been saying all along that I would crawl on my hands and knees to New Orleans to make it there for Mardi Gras and I was starting to feel like that was going to be my only option.

But Nick was resolute and ALDOT and GDOT and all of the internet agreed that the interstates weren't in terrible shape, so I loaded up the car with all our stuff and a special We Might Have To Sleep In The Car survival kit with two big warm blankets, three canteens of water, enough food for a few days, a flashlight, and some kitty litter for traction if we got stuck.

As you might imagine, the fact that I went to such lengths virtually guaranteed that the ride would be completely unremarkable, and luckily, it was. Despite the many inches of snow visible around the roads all the way through Montgomery and even further south than that, the roads were completely dry and safe.

When planning our trip, we realized that it was kind of silly to have to pony up for a hotel room in New Orleans for the Friday night before Mardi Gras when we'd be getting in in the middle of the night anyway, so we decided to take a detour to Biloxi to stay in the [much-cheaper] Treasure Bay Casino. My reasoning was that we could crash, hit the slot machines or something in the morning on our way out and get to walk on the beach (which never fails to thrill me), and then be only an hour and a half or so from New Orleans on Saturday morning, giving us plenty of time to roll in and meet Ashley and Dave and Sam for Endymion Saturday afternoon.

In college, Ashley and Joe and Colin and I hit up Biloxi a few memorable times. I think I even remember Meghan coming with us one time when she was in town? Every time the giant Treasure Bay Casino--a barge moored in the Gulf dressed up to look like a ~pirate ship~--ended up seducing us to stop the car and swim in its shadow. There was a great little souvenir shop across the street for beach necessities sunscreen or a church key with dolphins on it, a bar for a round or two before the drive home, and parking right along the beach. I found a great picture from the early 90s that shows the ship/casino, the pink souvenir shop, and the inviting little nook next to the ship where we always swam:

On the long, cold, late drive from Atlanta to Biloxi, I talked up Biloxi to Nick--how trashy and comforting and Gulf South and wonderful it was, how nice it would be to walk on the beach and gamble in a pirate ship.

When we finally pulled onto the road that runs along the beach in Biloxi, I set the Google Maps directions aside. "Now we just look for the pirate ship!" I chirped, excitedly scanning the ocean side of the road.

But what we found was a nice little hotel on the inland side of the road with absolutely nothing across from it. As we pulled in, I double-checked the sign. Sure enough, the Treasure Bay Casino was nothing like I remembered it.

I did a little research when I got home and it turns out that, sure enough, my beloved pirate ship had indeed once been exactly where I remembered it being.

And then in 2005 Katrina, punisher, taker of lives, added insult to injury. She drowned my city, she murdered my neighbors...and she took my pirate ship?

November 15, 2005--During its years of operation, the Treasure Bay was more of a photo opportunity for tourists than a Gulf Coast gaming leader.

Today, the site sits amid a section of the Mississippi coastline ravaged by Katrina's 135 mph winds and 30-foot storm surge. Motels, restaurants and bars and souvenir shops that were neighbors to the casino lay in ruins. In the Treasure Bay parking lot, casino debris was strewn about. Discarded "Silver Crew" slot club cards were scattered in the sand.

Before Katrina hit, the Treasure Bay had 978 slot machines and 47 table games on a 41,000 square foot-barge built to resemble a Jolly Roger. In addition to restaurants, the Treasure Bay operated a small hotel across Highway 90.

All were damaged beyond repair by the hurricane on Aug. 29. The barge broke from its moorings and came to rest about 100 yards from its dock, dragging two of its four 60-inch concrete and metal-cased pylons.

Full Text Here

Apparently the owners decided to scrap it altogether and focus on rebuilding a really nice casino+hotel on the inland side of the road. I didn't get a picture of the beach now and surprisingly I can't find one online, but here's an aerial post-Katrina shot. All that's left on the ocean side now is what's left of the pylons and the concrete dock.

Despite my crushing disappointment that my beloved pirate ship was gone, the new Treasure Bay Casino proved to be pretty wonderful anyway.

The air smelled like Gulf sea salt and casino smoke. The casino was hoppin like it was noon when we got there past midnight. The original plan had been to crash and possibly hit the casino in the morning, but we were enticed by the siren song of the free drinks and flashing lights so we headed down to the floor around 1am.

I don't think we saw anyone even within ten years of our age range the entire time we were there. We had to consult with the fine staff at the "Players' Club" to get outfitted with the Players' Club Cards that allowed us to gamble.

hit the players' club for 'bout a month or two

We played the slots and roulette tables in tiny increments, stretching $20 to last over the course of several hours. It was far more fun than it had any right to be. Nick won $8 or so on the roulette tables and I won a few bucks on the penny slots. I didn't take any pictures because I figured that might get us thrown out, but it was basically like this:

The next morning, we got up bright and early to hit the "Infinity" breakfast buffet. As I was happily tearing into my huge omelet, it occurred to me that I basically had the Infinity breakfast buffet every day in college. Oh, meal plan. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone.

Before we left, we decided to blow the ticket for $1.67 I had left over from the night before on the penny slots. I played on the ~lucky machine~ that had coughed up a few dollars the night before, and lo and behold the thing started flashing and beeping and I won $12. Not bad for the penny slots. I cashed out immediately. I understand the concept of luck running out.

We went and climbed on what was left of the old pirate ship and kind of kicked around on the beach before we left. The beach was so cold and grey and barren--it's always strange to me to be at the ocean during the winter time.

I said goodbye to what was left of the pirate ship and we set off for my city with $12 in my pocket.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

coupons--my organization system + this week's haul

This is what $12 bought me last night at CVS and Publix:

Here's the rundown, in case anyone is interested:

2 Glade candles
2 bottles Crest Pro Health enamel rinse
1 bag of Reese's cups
TOTAL for 5 items: $1.69 after coupons (saved $33.27)

4 bags Birdseye frozen vegetables
2 bags Birdseye frozen dinners for two (pasta, meat, veggies, sauce)
2 bottles Ken's teriyaki marinade
2 4-packs of Fiber One Yoplait
1 bag Goodlife cat food
1 box Ziploc freezer bags
1 Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers lunch (pasta and sauce)
1 can Blue Diamond wasabi almonds (not pictured)
TOTAL for 14 items: $9.97 after coupons (saved $37.56)

My friends/family/colleagues who tease me about couponing often inform me with a certain degree of smugness in their voice that they don't use coupons because coupons are only for Cheez Wiz and Froot Loops and other such processed garbage. I wanted to make this post to show that I am able to buy household goods and healthy food for my little family for a tiny fraction of the normal retail price using coupons. I mean, it's not Whole Foods organic whatever whatever, but frozen veggies and yogurt and almonds are also not Cheez Wiz and Froot Loops. More importantly, we save tons on health/beauty/home stuff like mouthwash and ziploc bags and stuff, which we're going to end up buying regardless. Money is really tight around here and couponing is a great way to free up a little cash in the monthly budget. Can you detect a certain degree of smugness in my voice?

The person who should really be feeling smug is the amazing Jenny at Southern Savers. She takes all of the guesswork out of coupon shopping. Every week, Jenny posts the new weekly ads for CVS, Publix, Kroger, and Target, along with a bunch of other grocery stores we don't have in Atlanta. Along with all of the sale items and their prices, Jenny lists all relevant coupons for that item and the date for each coupon.

Because of Jenny's awesomeness, I don't even have to clip coupons on Sunday anymore! I just keep all of my coupon packets binder-clipped together by week in this magazine holder:

and then I clip what I need when I need it using the coupon match-ups on Southern Savers! It saves me sooooo much time not to have to clip every single coupon and sort it.

Once upon a time I did clip every single coupon and sort it. I made a box for the coupons out of an empty envelope box that I liberated from work and then actually Mod Podged expired coupons onto. I really can't explain why I do the things I do.

Luckily, the old coupon box has not become obsolete at all. I still use it to organize all of my loose coupons, like ones I clipped and didn't end up using, coupons I grab out of the magic blinking boxes at the store, coupons that come in the mail, etc.

I created a rather elaborate organization system involving envelopes and color-coded post-it flags. I go through periodically and purge the expired coupons.

I made the divider out of scrapbook paper and a cardboard six-pack container.

This is all very silly but my organization system really cuts down on the amount of time I have to spend coordinating my grocery store visits every week. It took a little investment of time in the beginning to figure everything out and get into the groove of things, but it was totally worth it.

And as long as we're talking about coupons/bargains/my being a cheapskate, I had a totally lucky moment yesterday at Target. I had been coveting one of their Valentine's Day wreaths since they put it out at the beginning of January but I could not bring myself to pay $20 for it. I generally cannot bear to pay full price for anything. So I decided to hold out for the after Valentine's Day 50% off sale, knowing full well that it would almost certainly be long gone by then in its infinite cuteness.

It was still there! It might not show up very well in the picture but the wreath is all wispy faux ranunculus and it is adorable. I still kind of cringed to pay $10 for it but I was not about to gamble that it would still be around on Thursday or Friday when it goes to 75% off. But I have already definitely gotten $10 of enjoyment out of it already, whatever that means. It is exceedingly girly but Nick doesn't seem too put out over it because he is princely like that.

NEXT TIME: our trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

black and geauld super beauwl

Well, I'm a little a lot behind, but I absolutely have to write a little about Super Bowl weekend!

So, as I spoke about at length in my last post, mine and Nick's dear old friend Alex came down last weekend for the Saints Super Bowl. We had sooooo much fun. Friday night found us downing gelato and geocaching in the Virginia Highlands, and on Saturday we went letterboxing at the Varsity:


Somehow none of the three of us had ever been there before. For non ATLiens, the Varsity is The World's Largest Drive-In Restaurant and the home of absolutely legendary chili dogs, onion rings, and an orange creamsicle concoction called a "Frosted Orange." The food was amazing and it was really fun to go after my first letterbox. I'm looking forward to looking for more in Midtown--it's such a silly and wonderful little hobby.

And then came Sunday.

So I have a little mood music for this part of the post:

With the Saints in the Super Bowl, we had to go all out. We invited 15 or so friends over for a NOLA-tastic Super Bowl party, the likes of which had never been seen in ATL before. Behold the spread:

Jambalaya, seven-layer dip, king cake, bbq lil smokies, rotel+velveeta and chips, hummus and pita chips, tortilla chips and salsa, potato chips and french onion dip, carrots, blueberries, M&Ms, Doritos, wonderful little turtle things Alex made, and all kinds of wonderful things our guests brought later

We also made teeshirts!

As usual, much credit is due to Mary Nell and Jeremy. They not only brought an endless supply of car bomb makins, but Jeremy also loaned us a projector and helped Nick rig the rig to transform one entire wall in our living room into a screen. Alex decked the house in elaborate black and gold streamer creations, and I set an entire NOLA tablescape*, complete with Mardi Gras beads and sparkly fleur de lis and golden tulips.

The party was so much fun. We did car bombs every time the Saints scored. I had to switch to sweet tea bombs about halfway through the night, but that's just how I roll.

DJ Tiny Eyes executes some car bombs


old friends

Nick and Nick discuss what their computers have done recently

And then, um, we won. I have never experienced that kind of emotion over a sporting event. I was weak in the knees. My heart was in my throat. I think everyone knows I can get kind of overemotional about New Orleans but I did not expect to feel the way I did. That Super Bowl win meant so much to the city of New Orleans, it is absolutely incredible.

Nick and I actually spent this past weekend in New Orleans, which was a whole nother WHO DAT-filled experience, but I'm going to hold off on that post until Ash and Dave upload their pics to Facebook for me to poach. For now, I leave you with an important thought. A mantra, even.