Chicken Extravaganza!

I cook for two these days. Leftovers are nice, but mostly I love to cook supper fast. (Of course, my favorite recipe is Olive Garden or Pei Wei, but that’s a pretty worn out joke…) So to accommodate a fast dinner, I almost always pre-cook the meat. Cooked meat freezes well, and I use it up before freezer burn sets in. Besides, I always feel comfortable asking one of our kids, with their brood, over for dinner. With meat already cooked I can have company stress-free-er. (Not going to be too bravado here…)

But before I share my Chicken Extravaganza, I have two heros I’d like to introduce to you today. One I knew very well. The other I only hope to meet. First, from way, way back in my early days of raising a family, my wonderful Frugal Comrade in Arms, Joann. She is the actual source of the Chicken Extravaganza. When Joann’s husband suddenly lost his job, for a while they were in shock. With five children at the time her husband felt compelled to go back to college to learn another skill. So what did my friend do? She rolled up her sleeves and tackled the job of feeding her family of seven. With unwavering energy, her demeanor remained, for the full extent of their heavy burden, at least five years, full of grace. And I was blessed to have had a front row seat.

Oh, the hours we spent in her kitchen! Not just discussing meals, of course. We sipped tea, ate homemade or “manager special” cookies, and pondered the bigger things of life– our parenting, cleaning gunk out of carpet, wifing, and mentoring other women in the Kingdom. But her thrifty methods of running her household greatly impacted me, and my already frugal mindset moved to a whole new level. One day she told me that a boiled (or rotisserie) chicken can make four or five meals, and also that a couple pounds of ground beef can do the same. Well, as a bonafide Frugal Feme Fatale, I believed her. I just didn’t know how. So she showed me.

Now, decades later, her oldest son continues to brag about how she fed the family for (not kidding) fifty bucks a month. Impossible, you say; but through food auctions and super sales, she did it! (I had never heard of a food auction before either, but she took me once, and it was good food, even though refused by classy restaurants due to dinged boxes or dents occurring in transit.) They didn’t eat prime rib, but they ate well. Even better than many of their friends. That’s a story in itself –and maybe one day I can get her to tell you herself. But right now, I’d like to share just a tiny bit of what she taught me– how you stretch that chicken!

First, my other hero.

About twenty five years ago,  while I was learning from Joann,  “The Tightwad Gazette” was born.  Amy Dacyzn (You pronounce her name like decision.) confirmed what many had taught me about a frugal lifestyle, but she unpacked so much more wizardry. Her personal story, told with humor, peppered with her own artwork, was a goldmine of instruction. Her delivery? Witty illustrated monthly newsletters detailing what she had researched in her home. One day discovered by daytime radio and television, she was catapulted to fame, eventually publishing several years of her newsletters in a two-volume book set with the same name, The Tightwad Gazette, Volume 1 and Volume 2. Even husbands, mine included, determined to improve the bottom line, jumped on the bandwagon.

TightWadGazzette

Creating the most lively conversations around our house were her essays, tucked among the recipes and snippets of practical advice. Here she mounted her soap box and hawked a philosophical defense of her madness– how we should and shouldn’t think about our money, our time, and the return on the investment of both. In the decades since, my husband and I have devoured her common sense and wisdom—leaving the paperbacks, quite ragged, for our guests, as if they were regular coffee table fare. If you can locate a copy over the internet, these are a treasure for any housekeeper. Just this weekend my husband found a brand new copy (I guess the owner had no idea what he or she possessed…) in a local thrift. You can imagine our joy to be graced with an undogeared copy.

So now that you’ve been introduced to my hero teachers, Joann and Amy, let me share the trick you’ve been waiting for: The Amazing Stretching Chicken Extravaganza. Here it is:

a. Buy the rotisseried or boil the whole chicken, (though celery is a no-no at my house add lots of onion and garlic) into about a gallon of water and cook until chicken is very tender.

b. While chicken cools, prepare shopping list. Carrots, potatoes, fresh green beans, broccoli, brown rice, potatoes, canned or dried beans, prepared or homemade pasta sauce, 2 cans of tomatoes and green chilies, any other firm veggies (like cauliflower). Don’t forget salad fixings, including dressings. Bread or chips if carbs are okay.

c. Pick meat off chicken. (Optional: simmer carcass on very low heat about an hour, for more pieces of meat. I don’t often do this, even as tight as I am…). Distribute meat into 5 baggies.

d. Go Shopping.  Start cooking. Freeze bags of meat, and use as needed below.

Day 1- Chicken soup. Save about half stock, add chopped soup veggies to remainder, including two diced potatoes or 1 cup brown rice. (Rice soup will take longer, so if you have the time, cook rice separately and add last.) *If you saute the veggies first, the soup will be done in less than 30 minutes— just let the flavors meld.  Add your first bag of chicken (unless you boiled the carcass, which leaves you with an extra bag of chicken.) Serve with whole wheat crackers and sliced cucumbers drizzled with salad dressing. If you have leftovers, keep for later casseroles and soup.

Day 2– Chicken spaghetti. Get a bag of chicken and add it to either white or red pasta sauce with a tiny bit of stock, simmer for 10 minutes, cook any pasta you choose. Prepare a salad and maybe a bit of French bread.

Day 3– Broccoli Casserole. Layer a bag of chicken on bottom of sprayed casserole dish. Add 1 cup cooked (or uncooked) rice. Mix well flour, milk, and plenty of spices -especially onions and garlic- to equal a total of 2 cups liquid. For fewer calories, use nonfat milk, water, or stock.

Put broccoli spears in small pieces all over top. Pour liquid over all. (will be watery). Cover tightly and bake at 350 degrees for 40 min. or until rice is almost cooked. Remove casserole and let stand last 10 minutes while rice finishes cooking, still covered. Serve with salad and bread.

Day 4– Tortilla Soup. Use the rest of the soup from Day 1 plus your saved stock.. Add onions, green peppers and (to make this heartier) I always add a can of pinto beans and a cup of frozen corn. Toss in the next bag of chicken and your favorite Mexican spices, plus a can (or two if you like it hot) of tomatoes and green chiles. Add any leftover spaghetti sauce. This will give it more body and the green chilies do overpower the Italian flavor. (Believe me I have done this and it works).  After simmering the soup for about 30 to 40 minutes add crushed tortilla chips and serve. Add a fiesta salad, salsa, and you are ready for another meal that will definitely have leftovers. Can you wait for tomorrow’s lunch?

Day 5–   Your last precious bag. Tonight is (drum roll, please!) Chinese! (I didn’t mean for that to rhyme….) Chop all veggies that you would like in your stir fry. Make sure you include onions and green peppers and fresh green beans or something else bright green. Put olive oil in pan and get it very hot. Add veggies and any spices that you would like. Please, before the veggies are soft, add your bag of chicken, preferably warmed for a few seconds in the microwave. Keep veggies crisp! Finally, add soy sauce just as you serve the plates. Yum.

You did all that with one chicken and quite a few veggies. Wow! Have you got any amazing stretching food stories?


Clothes….a Primer

Kiernan_Shipka_Closet-01_4

If you are like most of us, you have too many clothes. But you may not like your clothes, they may be too small, too big, or “not you.”  In this primer on shopping resale, my goal is to lighten your load, lift your spirits. Whether you use Craig’s List, huge thrifts, or tiny boutiques, knowing the ropes may make “cheaper” better. You may get much more than you pay for. But pay attention to that word “may,” used twice above. Cheap is not always better, and quality is not a guarantee. However, I have saved a bundle each year for about three decades of resale shopping. And I believe you can too.

One thing is certain when you decide to shop resale. You must have brakes. When is enough enough? The other day I posted about knowing when to toss and mentioned the problem of a toss it society. But we are also a hoarding society. With bigger houses, shelved garages, and huge closets, we have become hoarders of stuff. Rather than recycling, cleaning out, we just stuff the old stuff. And why not, if there is room to do so. I see this as part of the problem of tossing. It is a brain/mind problem. More space affords fewer decisions, doesn’t it? And decisions aren’t always easy.

One day soon I’ll be writing about the decisions involved with letting go, in all it’s forms– children, stress, stuff, and grievances. But for today I am addressing our hoarding of clothes.  We all need a system to make sure we can find what we need when we need it. Here’s my short list:

——I have only so many hangers in my entire house, and will never buy another hanger. As a matter of fact, each season I try to gather a few more extras than I had the previous year. (I must be prepared for my sister’s visit, when we’ll shop just for fun.)

——I also have limited closet space. Needing room to organize and see my clothes helps define my brakes.

——I try to bag up and get rid of clothes every other month. My daughter-in-law is an inspiration to me for, with five children, she does it more often.

——I never shop with a cart or basket, unless I have a baby or friend to share with. The temptation to dump is too great.

What will define your brakes? Have some rules. Otherwise you will not like this kind of shopping. You’ll feel overwhelmed with mismatches, trendy, and blah. When a super-low price says, “Buy!” –you are in trouble. And when a higher price says, “Better N-ot!” –you are safer. But supposing you have good brakes, this resale shopping may allow you to have even better quality clothes than otherwise. The most incredible test of my brakes came one day on vacation at a country Salvation Army Family Store. They had a large room with long tables piled with almost new clothes. Each piece was 25 cents. I took about 30 minutes and kept my stash to about six items. That was very hard, because the clothes were nice.

Here’s how to get going:

1. Go through all your clothes and get rid of all you no longer like or which don’t fit. Bag it and put it into the trunk of your car, never to be seen again. (Where to from there? There are a thousand donation sites.) If your cast-offs are newer and boutique quality you can turn them into cash. Take a day to clean, iron, and document each piece. Sometimes this is time well spent.

2. Organize the remaining clothes into four categories.

    a. Dress Clothes– If possible hang them with any accessories you would wear with them, including jewelry and outer sweaters (for A/C in restaurants…)

    b. Casual Dress Clothes– These are your nicer jeans and pants, fun skirts, cute tops,  blazers and jackets. The clothes you wear to a job, on dates, or out for a special shopping day with the girls. Again, include accessories, and make ensembles. (You might feel the need of a friend to do this with you. Trade houses for an organization party at each.)

    c. Goof around denim, sport, and hang-around-the-house pieces

    d. All the rest, which include coats, sleepwear, etc. This category you may or may not shop resale.

    In each category, what basics are missing? Look for white and off-white tops, black “everything” (appropriate to the season), beige and solid color pants and skirts. Do you have a generous supply of basic pieces? Ones you can mix and match? Jot down what would round out your wardrobe.

3. When you go shopping, start with the nicer places if you are new to resale. If you are an oldie, reading this for tips, go to the biggest ones. You know how to make the hangers fly. (Once a clerk followed me around, I was going so fast. She probably thought I was a professional thief. Is there such a thing?) If you stick to the list you won’t come home with single pieces which you’ll end up tossing. Do you know of something you can wear with it? Is it unique, not like everything you see trending in the department stores?

4. Age matters. Look for close-to-new items. Good boutiques and thrift outlets try to stick with items under three years old. This just goes to prove the point: the world has too many clothes.

5. Notice that prices are all over the map regardless of age and quality. Bottom line, your bottom line is the bottom line. You are the one who must decide if something is a good deal, no matter where you buy it. I have this rule of thumb. If it ends up not working for me (size, color, or function) am I okay being out the money plus the bother of recycling? When deciding the value of something, develop a price based on how long you plan to use it, how often you will wear it, and how much you love it. “If I walk away from this…..hmmm, will I think of it again tomorrow?” Most items won’t show up in the steam of my morning coffee.

So, here are a few extra tips:

a. That perfect black dress? Of course go to Stein Mart or the mall. It will be there on sale and you’ll have it for years.

b. Scarves, shirts, pants, skirts, sweaters, jackets, blazers. Accessories by the boatload. They are in abundance at the boutiques and thrift outlets. Mix and match and have a ball. If they don’t look great after a while, redonate. The thing I like about recycled clothes is you know how they look after the trip around the washer and dryer. If you get them brand new (which happens more often than you think) you can risk the wash for a lot less than retail.

c. Jewelry is a great hunt at boutiques and thrift outlets. Since the markup on department store jewelry is exorbitant, dig and you’ll see. People do recycle good stuff. (Of course the gap closes when you find a good sale at Charming Charlie. So, by all means, don’t Assume that resale anything automatically means a bargain!)

d. Since quality boy’s and men’s clothing is harder to find at thrifts, look in consignment boutiques first. You’ll find higher quality, common sizes, and you can search quickly. Then if you can’t find it, go to retail.

So here’s my latest conquest out there in resale heaven. When locating specific winter things to boost my hotter Texas wardrobe for our trip to Colorado I found the following in two locations:

wo pairs of jeans (perfect fit)- consignment sale half off 6.00— 3.00 each.

About 3 almost new sweaters for cold weather—- 3.00 each

Several crisp turtlenecks to wear under the sweaters—- 2.00 each

Several practically new scarves– bright red silk, aqua  plaid (cotton)————1.00 each

And finally, my pride– high-heeled boots, fur-lined —5.00 (special consignment boutique sale: 60% off)

Are you willing to take a deep breath and look at resale in a different way? Most regular department stores are all about display and advertising. And, yes, it is sometimes refreshing to shop in grand style. But you don’t want to know the mark-up ratio. True, the discount retail stores (ie. Ross and Marshall) have been around for way over 20 years and keep their prices fairly low. Their clearance racks are good, sometimes great. But buyer beware, quality is not guaranteed.

Can you swear off malls– unless it is Christmas and the decorations beckon?  Or unless you are on a date with your hubby and you want him to see how much money you save him each month? Maybe one evening, strolling hand in hand, after a delicious dinner, and passing “Abber-Fitch” or “Vicki’s Secret” –or any clothing store, for that matter, he will mumble something you didn’t quite get, then squeeze your hand and say, “You are beautiful and amazing, Honey!” But he will mean more than your looks.

Finally, don’t refuse that shopping trip to New York. Do, by all means, go! Just instead of clothes shopping, use the money you’ve already saved (following my advice) to see two or three more shows, eat at better restaurants, all the while looking so good, everyone will swear you’ve been shopping– there in New York!

What additional advice do you have? There is another goldmine out there– in your head, I mean!

Too Many Clothes

     Used-clothing     About eight years ago someone drove by a large lot on the outskirts of a town, and came upon a strange sight. A tractor-trailer-sized load of discarded clothes. When the evening TV news covered the curiosity, a reporter stood in front of the cacophony of color and blithely announced it had been mysteriously dumped there. You could see people behind him rummaging through the cache, finding treasures. Of course it had to be bulldozed and hauled to the local landfill.

     Today, as a testament to a bloated culture, parked tractor-trailers full of clothes dot every large city of America. They stand as silent sentinels on the back lots of donation centers where only the good stuff is fluffed up and hung on racks. The rest, unneeded for market, is weighed and sold for cash. As with all recyclables, unwanted fabric brings cash.

So put up your feet and pour a cup of coffee while I tell you just a wee bit about it… how the clothing world got to be that way, how it now affects my life…and how it can change yours. But let me first pull off my high heel, fur-lined boots, and loosen my silky soft, pastel plaid, all-cotton scarf. Both bought this week for……oh, we’ll get to that later.

     First of all, I am a consignment/thrift store aficionado and will heretofore call these shops Resales, as opposed to Retails. The resale market has become a multi-billion dollar business across America. Tiny Consignment Boutiques, which may have actually come first, generally have more ambiance (with perfume, decorator touches, and soft music) and often allow more space between racks. This ingenious phenomenon was born because many women’s clothes, too expensive and new to pile into huge black bags and drop at the side of a building, deserve a hanger and some real respect. Though no longer loved, they still have cash value, and can provide a little return on the initial investment. Hence the difference between the two: thrift outlets get their bounty through donations, sometimes raising millions of dollars for charity, while the boutiques provide income for both donors and vendors.

     But how did all this get started?

It began in the 70’s when textile manufacturing, almost overnight, went overseas. Already, downtown shops were popping up where “hippies” loved to scrounge for their preferred vintage and “relaxed” styles. (Don’t deny it, you remember! Whether they helped the resale trend or hindered it is up for question…)The cost of these used clothes was a fraction of retail, and eventually more young folks began to hunt for treasures there. Yuppies with a shrewd eye on baby clothes at ridiculously low prices then led the way for Grandmas. These clothes were much more worn and had originally cost much more than today’s. But….

A trend had begun. And while the used clothing phenomenon kept to the side streets and small venues, practically every major clothing manufacturer continued to move their fabric-making and sewing overseas. Even the most prestigious designers saw the writing on the wall. Calvin Klein had to move If he were to compete in the world clothing market. He too would have to use the commonly called “sweat shops” lining the streets of huge cities in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

And, of course, the cost of making clothing plummeted while the profit skyrocketed. The resulting increase in the volume of clothing swept the world, the likes of which no one could have ever guessed. Lower production costs then filtered to the stores, and retail clothing prices began to plummet. Fabric was the last commodity to come down in price; however as clothing became cheaper, sewing at home declined at the same rate. The cost of the fabric alone rivaled the cost of the finished product. If women really loved to sew, the fabric was available. But fabric stores had to major in crafts and everything “decor” in order to stay in business.

What happened next was absolutely predictable. Everyone began to buy more. They bought more because in a world where so much was getting more expensive, clothes and other foreign-made products were going down in price. No woman bought a blouse she expected to keep for long. Well, maybe she did at the time of purchase. But soon there was a cheaper, cuter blouse out there; she could either dump the old one, or add the new to the old.

Closets had to grow. Builders, even before the new millenium, found that the greatest request for track (as well as custom homes) was large closets. Why? Because people who aren’t really wealthy have a lot of clothes. And they have to store them. The poorer in America may be lacking in closet space, but they have no lack of clothes. Most people who are allowed to get food stamps have an abundance of clothes. And who would blame them? Clothes are plentiful, available, and cheap– at every level of quality.

You might not have known but many towns and boroughs across the land actually have maps showing just where the boutiques and thrift outlets are. Wouldn’t it be in one’s best interest to cash in on this abundance?

So tomorrow I will have a primer, a very short course, in a very small space.. of what I have learned about buying resale.

Girdles, Garters, and Pantyhose Bite the Dust….

Sometime during my growing up years, alleys in neighborhoods seemed to disappear.

All over the towns and cities, new dumpsters popped up in large parking lots or behind shopping centers to accommodate the burgeoning plethora of garbage our society generated.  And guess what stayed behind in the middle class alley trash cans? Girdles. Women dumped these gut-scrunching, breath-choking straight jackets for good, about the same time garter belts, with their long dangling tentacles, bit the dust. But before girdles and garter belts took a swan dive into the trash, every woman wore them.

vintage girtles

Why they virtually separated the girls from the women in much the same way a hair updo did in the 19th century. Women tugged and pulled on those things as if their entire self-esteem depended on it. And then, in practically the time it took Dorothy to click her magic shoes together, pantyhose swept the scene.

Pantyhose, welcomed during the 60’s and 70’s as the new icon of feminine loveliness, differed from their nylon predecessors only slightly. Seams had gone out in the 40’s – you know, that dark line that didn’t always stay straight on the back of your leg. And the choices were still few: size (about 3 or 4), color (about 4 or 5), and style (nude toe or reinforced). But getting a run became much more annoying! Instead of just one stocking, the whole thing (er, pair) would have to be replaced. So pantyhose were definitely more expensive at first; and, as a frugal nut, I often questioned the trade-off. For they weren’t more comfortable to wear. Not at all. With a tendency to succumb to gravity at the crotch, they were hotter by far. Nonetheless, our national love affair with these modified tights escalated on into the 80’s, when it reached a peak the likes of which a young person today could barely imagine. Whole stores sprang up in malls, dedicated completely to pantyhose in every price range.

My sister-in-law, just home from a 4-year stint on the foreign mission field, returned from a shopping trip saying, “I just wanted a simple pair of pantyhose! Tan, medium, reinforced toe. But there were aisles and aisles of them– inside eggs, in little bags, in boxes, and every color and texture imaginable!” Poor thing, in just four years, the phenomenon had soundly established itself.
But wait a minute. Soundly? Not quite. As fast as it came, the phenomenon disappeared. Heat, sliding crotches, discomfort, but mostly a brand new new love affair with casual, all gave the boot to pantyhose. Fast forward to the present. Can you even find pantyhose in the department store? Well, yes, we do have some “wild things” relegated to a corner of the sock department. Black, lacy or striped pantyhose have been making a comeback as companions to the stiletto heels. But for regular daily wear, they have been joyously banished almost as soundly as the garter and girdle. I’ll bet they even contributed to the big dumpster boom.

And I for one am glad of this change. Being a card-carrying member of the Pantyhose Rebellion of the late 90’s, I have been positioning myself in the sun just so my legs can shed that pasty white and look a tiny bit like those horrid hose. And I also relish the fact that dumpsters everywhere have a bit more room in them because of my cause. If you go to Kohl’s, and look really closely, tucked somewhere In the sock department, you can find an old memorial placque with these words engraved:

We came,
We left.

You are free.

From the Alley to the Stage…..

Thirty-five years ago, when our family lived in one of the most beautiful cities in North America, Vancouver, B.C., our home was part of a middle class neighborhood where alleys commonly created a no man’s land between back yards. Though unpaved, rutted and dusty, these passageways conjured no images of terror like their dank, rat-infested and dangerous counterparts we often see in the movies. As a matter of fact, most neighborhoods needed alleys for trash pickup and storm sewers, and to pack or unload cars.

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The alley which ran between my back yard and my friend’s back yard was our place to play if it wasn’t too muddy. It did smell back there. After all, our garbage cans couldn’t have been more than ten feet away. But it was our own No Man’s Land. And since we weren’t in anyone’s actual yard, and with no jurisdiction, a sense of equality and freedom prevailed. My friend was not a bit older than me, but she was tougher, and it was through her I learned that some dads had beer in the refrigerator, and that when you fight with a girl, you go for the hair. Ouch.

Now, though already a staple in many a household, our family owned no TV. It would be a full year or so before my father even thought of buying one.   “Hhhm, half the time it’s just fuzz!  No decent programs on anyway,” he would say.

So we were definitely not “cutting edge.” With only a radio which played solely the news and some sports, the alley was where I learned about entertainment.

Early that year the Elvis Presley phenomenon took Canada by storm. My friend said I had to learn “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.” And learn I did. Let me tell you, she had it down– the shimmy, the shaky voice, and the pretend microphone. Though my parents would certainly not have approved, that dusty alley is where I discovered I was born to perform. Unwilling to give it all she did, I did put my voice out there and learned the words perfectly.  She also taught me “Tan Shoes With Pink Shoelaces.” Remember?  “…a pokadot vest, and man, oh man….” Surely you remember! The last line was,  “…a big panama with a purple hat band!” Now all I needed was a cane and a hat! Sadly, the younger men had begun to quit wearing those handsome panamas to work and town, and my dad was one of them. I had no straw hat or fine felt one. But somehow I always found a bit of a hat around the house, and a broom or mop handle made a great cane.

You know I never saw the front of my friend’s house, nor did I ever consider she had one. I was six, in the first grade, and to me her house was only a back side, a tiny yard, a fence, a gate, and an alley. We sang and danced hour after hour. Even after teaching me the Charleston it still never dawned on me I had no earthly idea what Charleston music sounded like, nor had I ever heard Elvis sing. Leaning forward with that “hands to knees crossover” move, I was ready for the stage.

And strangely enough, within the year I had my shot at it. Our public school was putting on a Christmas program, and there was a boy in my class who supposedly was a “professional” singer. How he earned the title I never knew, but we, being the class “singers” were to perform a duet, “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” And because we were thrown together in this way, I was horrified to find out that we would be staying after school to practice. I was further horrified to discover that he stank.

It couldn’t have been greasepaint from performing, or the food his mom cooked in an ethnic kitchen. I wouldn’t have been so put off by either. This was a unique and distasteful body odor with which I had never before come in contact! And there we were, a singing team! What a conflict! On the one hand, what a thrill to perform for all the folks; on the other hand, that smell permeated every practice session.

Now although I was dressed as a regular first grader in holiday attire, he performed in the whole Elvis garb- fringed leather jacket, white pants, slicked back hair. At the time, I thought maybe he just liked Elvis, but looking back, maybe he was a six year-old Elvis impersonator. Did I care? No way! As a matter of fact, show business had greatly paled by the end of first grade. Overrated if you had asked me. The applause after the show meant that it was over. The whole experience.

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Who knows? Maybe I was spared some future trauma by giving up my dream. But in the early 50’s, Elvis rock n roll, Softshoe, and Charleston slipped into the alley of my childhood city life.