Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Frugal Food – Stretching Milk

I’ve started stretching the milk again, much to my husband’s dismay.

“My expensive organic milk?” he asked, alarmed.

“Yes,” I replied calmly, pulling out the gallon pitcher and whisk.

I can stretch a half-gallon carton of milk to a full gallon by mixing it with powdered milk, an easy frugal trick. I double the recipe on the box of powdered milk, putting two and two-thirds cups powdered milk in the pitcher. Then I whisk half a cup of warm water into the milk, creating a relatively smooth paste. Next I add seven more cups of water to make a half-gallon of powdered milk. I finish by adding the half-gallon carton of milk to the pitcher. Voila! A full gallon of milk.

“Why don’t you just mix up powdered milk and be done with it?” my husband asked in a half-sarcastic, half-disgruntled tone, eyeing the empty carton of organic milk.

“Because mixing powdered milk with two-percent tastes better, as we’ve discussed before,” I returned, unruffled.

“You’re ruining the organic milk with that cheap powdered stuff,” he pointed out.

“Well…” I began, my voice trailing off. He had me there. As my smart sister-in-law once told me, organic produce is a bit of a waste, since you can effectively wash off the pesticide residue with plain water. However, organic meats and dairy have more value, as it’s impossible to avoid whatever antibiotics and hormones the poor beasts have been given. Although I suppose you’re diluting those nasty additives by mixing powdered milk with organic, it really doesn’t make much sense. I might as well go on and by conventional milk to mix with powdered…unless I can find organic powdered milk.

“I guess I’ll look for organic powdered milk when I look for soy powdered milk,” I answered finally. The soymilk I buy for my milk intolerant child is much more expensive than anything cows can produce.

“Soy powdered milk?” my husband repeated. And, shaking his head, he rolled his eyes and shrugged.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Frugal Food

Like most of us, I’m haunted by signs of economic woe. The news is littered with stories of a shattered housing industry, bank runs, foreclosures, rising unemployment, and other tales of financial disaster. I hear snippets of conversation from the moms at the pool lamenting rising food prices, and I cringe whenever I fill my car with gas. In the relatively prosperous suburbs I see boarded up restaurants and gas stations, and I can’t help wondering what to do about it all.

My own kitchen is where the rubber meets the road for me. In my family, I am a notoriously scattered shopper and sometime cook. I dabble in the culinary arts the way I dabble with knitting and scrap booking—yet my family needs to eat three meals a day, 365 days a year.

In spite of this I still believe that shopping for food and other daily household items offers the most opportunity to save money in a failing economy, despite rising food costs. It just depends on how time, effort, brainpower, and creativity I’m willing to invest. So I’m setting out on a journey to figure out how to save money at the grocery store and time and energy in the kitchen.


I was a bit demoralized by my quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a few items. For $21.48, I was able to get two large containers of Quaker Oats, two bags of Sun Chips, and two dozen eggs. Quaker Oats, a product I usually find to be cost effective, cost 13 cents an ounce. It’s clearly way past time for me to get busy.


I was demoralized even further by the thought that I really need to clear out my freezer. To be brutally honest, I need to see some empty freezer, refrigerator, and pantry space before I make any kind of significant outlay at the grocery store.

Wealth is not just money in the bank. As it has been since the dawn of humankind, wealth is really a well-stocked larder. To ignore the fuzzy, white, unidentifiable packages in the freezer is the same as ignoring the savings account balance. Although it isn’t one of my strongest skills, I’m taking my imagination (and perhaps the imaginations of my husband and daughter) into the freezer and pantry to drum up some ideals for meals.

At least in the pantry I know what I’m working with, since the food products are adorned with helpful labels. I’m just plain scared of digging through my freezer. I once thawed out some chicken, some of the bloodiest chicken I’ve ever rinsed, only to realize after several moments under the faucet that it was actually pork chops. (It was an honest mistake since they had been purchased by my mother-in-law a couple of month earlier. I never buy pork chops.) It will certainly take every ounce of moral courage I possess to go hunting around in my freezer, but I’m sure the little hors d’oeuvre sized spinach pastries I know are hiding somewhere in there will make it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Book Review - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Warning: This post contains spoiler information on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. If you have not read the book, click away from this post immediately and find a copy of your own to read.

The kernel of the plot of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas can be summed up in a sentence or two, but John Boyne has woven a tale around it that asks more questions than it answers. The back cover of the book deliberately reveals few details about the story, barely enough to get you to turn it over and open the front cover. The reader only learns that the book is about a nine-year-old boy named Bruno, that the book is not for nine-year-olds, and that Bruno takes a journey and encounters an ominous fence.

Most of us who are over the age of nine are familiar with the tragic setting of this story, but as the story is written from the point of view of a child, we are left to piece the clues together. As I read the story, I played a game with myself, looking for clues and foreshadowings and hints as the drama unfolded. Alas, the story is not a mystery, although the surprise ending presents one.

Still, I prided myself on figuring the Fury in chapter one and Out-With in chapter three. These bits of enlightening information made my heart sink into my stomach, beating with increasing intensity with each turn of the page. It was a bit like watching through the lens of a video camera a small girl with auburn curls and mischievous hazel eyes fling her arms around her father, who is dressed in a police officer’s uniform, on a glorious autumn morning in New York City. Then you read the date imprinted at the bottom of the screen: 9/11/01 7:54am. You know what happened that fateful day, but you don’t know what happened to these particular characters and you’re scared to find out although the story compels you.

I was compelled to keep reading the story to find out what was going to happen when nine-year-old Bruno discovered the truth about the village behind the fence. He seemed to have such a firm moral compass that it was natural for me, the reader, to wonder would happen when he made the horrifying discovery that would bring the novel to its climax and resolution. Although I was shocked by the ending, I was more shocked by the questions it posed.

Did Bruno ever realize what was going on in his own backyard? If he did, was it at the point of no return? Or perhaps was it at the point when Lieutenant Kotler displayed his anger towards Pavel while the entire family looked on, a little more that halfway through the book? Perhaps Bruno did figure out what was going just past the middle of the story and simply couldn’t face it. Perhaps that is the reason he is dreams up the plans for the adventure at the end of the story. And who exactly is The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas? Is it his friend, Shmuel, or is it Bruno himself? Does it even matter?

In the end, the story of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is perhaps less about good and evil as it is the power of self-deception in the face overwhelming horror. Bruno does notice how thin his friend is becoming, but still he persists on imagining a prosperous, quaint little town behind the fence. Shmuel knows what is happening when first his grandfather and then his father disappear but is intent on solving the mystery of their disappearance as though they can somehow be rescued. The villainous Lieutenant Kotler is deceiving himself about his relationship with his own father, the literature professor with whom he has managed to lose contact. Even Bruno’s father takes an entire year to piece together the horrifying puzzle that haunts the end of the book.

We are all, in the course of our lives, faced with the notion that we can choose to take blue pill or the red pill, like the character of Neo in the film The Matrix. We can take the blue pill and live within the confines of our illusions or we can take the red pill and live with freedom and integrity but with untold hardship and suffering. Many of us believe that we have chosen the red pill, but The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas asks us if we are not all living within our own illusions after all.