Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Baked Apples

     I love apple pie, apple crisp, and warm apple anything really. The problem is that they are usually just filled with butter and sugar and that doesn't really do me any good. I am trying to eat as healthy as possible and still actually shed a few pounds that I'd prefer not to have. So I decided to give baked apples a shot, but do them my way. I started with a beautiful Granny Smith apple because I like the way they hold up in baking. Then I filled it with a delicious honey, nut and oats filling. I really enjoyed these and they were much healthier than the typical brown sugar and butter concoction.

4 apples 
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup chopped nuts (we used Brazil nuts and I crushed them by hand)
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup honey
Spices to taste, I used cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 deg F.

Step 1: Mix together all ingredients in a small bowl
Step 2: Core 4 apples and place in baking tray. I lined mine with foil for easier cleaning with the honey.
Step 3: Fill apples and bake for approx. 25-30 minutes. Cover with foil after 10-15 min to prevent charring.

They were awesome and the perfect desert, gooey and delicious!!!!

Simple City Sam

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"I Carried A Watermelon"

     My girls really love fruit and watermelon is high on the list of favorites. In fact, all melons are high on the list. The problem is that I hate cutting those little smiley face wedges, watching the juice run down their little arms and onto my couch and their clothes, and watching them throw out half the melon because their little faces can't get any closer to the rind. So, of course, I simplified.

     Now every time we buy a melon I cut it up right away into bite size pieces. The melon lasts a lot longer and has other hidden benefits too.  After it is cut it goes into plastic containers and goes on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. This way, when the girls are hungry, they can go to the refrigerator and get their own snack. It fosters independence and gives me and few extra minutes in the day. This is also facilitated by the fact that they have a kitchen drawer full of their own plastic bowls, plates, and cups. Kids like to feel like they are helping and have independence within the family. Having their own drawer has been such a stroke of genius in that department. Note: I also make them keep track of the bowl. They only get one snack bowl a day (it can be rinsed or wiped out) because there is no need for 8 "dirty" kid bowls in the sink at the end of the day!

Step 1:  Cut the ends off the melon. Try to get all the rind without taking a lot of the fruit with it. Start with a small cut, you can always take more off, but not less.

Step 2: Working from top to bottom, run your knife along the curve of the melon and cut off all the rind. Again, this will take practice to get good at it, so start slow and shallow, you don't want to cut it down to a toothpick before you get to cut pieces. It's hard for me to get all the way to the bottom, so I usually have to flip it over at the very end and shave off some spots I missed. As always, a good sharp knife is key.

Step 3: Now cut the melon in half so it's easier to work with. (If your family won't consume a whole melon in under a week you can freeze one half or wrap it in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator to keep it longer.) With your knife, slice horizontally through the melon twice. Then cut from the top down, usually 3-4 cuts, rotate 90 degrees and cut again. This final cut should give you bite size pieces. You will have essentially built your own melon "Rubik Cube". If the melon is smaller or has a hollow center (like a cleaned cantaloupe), the horizontal cuts can usually be avoided. 

Step 4: Pack the pieces in plastic and stick them in the refrigerator. Reserve any liquid you are able to save ( I even scrape the rinds into the bowl) in a separate bowl.

Step 5: This is one of those hidden bonuses. Take the reserved liquid and mash up any chunks or bits of the melon that may still be large. Then pour into reusable popsicle containers and put in the freezer. I LOVE these popsicle makers because they have the little straw on the bottom. As the juice melts it collects in the reservoir and the kids can suck it through the straw. Much smaller messes are made this way and they get to use a straw, which they love!!

     With this method I get to buy in bulk (whole melons instead of pre-cut or fruit cups- much cheaper), give my kids an avenue to be self sufficient, reduce waste, and get organic sugar free juice popsicles!!

Simple City Sam

Saturday, January 26, 2013

I Think I Fixed It...

     Well today was a very long day and I didn't get even half of what I wanted to accomplished. Oh well, to quote the Shirelles, "Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This", so I just keep on moving forward. I did however accomplish some things.

     It has come to my attention that most of you have been unable to comment on the postings for various reasons. I listened and did what I could. Well, I think I fixed it. Being that I am not what you would call a technologically savvy person, this is actually a big deal.What's more is that I did it by myself, on my own, with the power of me. So I'm feeling kinda awesome (even though if I were a techno type I'd be rolling my eyes because it was actually simple when I figured it out).

     Of course, if for some reason this fix didn't work, than disregard the last paragraph and don't comment because you won't be able to...but if it did work give a shout out!

Keep on the sunny side.

Simple City Sam

Friday, January 25, 2013

Yes, It's Freezing Out And Yes, I'm Still Walking

     I am the first person to say that I am not a fan of the cold weather. I have even been heard saying that the only reason I live in a cold weather city is because my husband and kids love the winter. This is only partly true as I do truly love Portland for so many reasons, but I really do not like the cold.

     That being said, I take at least two walks every single day with my kids. This was a calculated maneuver. When we moved back to Portland around 16 months ago we opted to move into a place on the higher end of our budget and be within 3 blocks to our daughter's school. We feel very passionately about her school and consider it one of our real priorities. We knew that living that close to school would allow us to sell one of our vehicles and truly live the way we said we always would. Doesn't everybody say that, "...if I lived in the city, I know I'd walk everywhere..."?! Well, we actually did it. Saving money on the side without registrations, insurance, gas, and maintenance was just an amazing added bonus.

     We also knew that I would be home full time with our youngest and working the drop off/ pick up angle with my oldest. During the summers I work full time, but my job is a split schedule from my husband's schedule so the vehicle is always available. More than that, I returned to a fabulous long standing relationship with The Peaks Island House Restaurant located in Casco Bay, so the ferry terminal is well within walking distance. I walked or rode my bike to work every day last summer.

     So, for the past 16 months now we've be doing what we always said we would. We simplified. We walk everywhere we can and only use the vehicle when necessary. I feel proud of myself for sticking with it. There are a lot of things "I would do if I ever...", that I've never done, but this isn't one of them. And I feel like it's a big one. I personally know several people who have told me they just could never make the commitment. I'm glad we could. In the summer we walk everywhere! We walk to Farmer's Market, the playground, the beach, the drug store, our friends' houses, just around. It feels amazing and my kids rarely ask to watch something on TV.

     Now, don't get me wrong, we don't go out for long walks when it's freezing cold outside. We do, however, walk to school everyday. It takes us a minimum of 10 minutes to get ready in the morning with the hats, scarves, mittens, snow pants (sometimes), boots and jackets. Then my youngest gets loaded in the stroller and wrapped in a blanket. Depending on how quickly my oldest moves it takes us 5-7 minutes to walk our shortest route. It takes me about 4 minutes on the way back. We are safe, we get fresh air, we get a little blood moving. These are all good things in my book. So, yeah, even on a cold day I count it as a major personal win.

Everyday I'm glad I made this huge commitment to simplifying and living my life the way I always said I would.

Simple City Sam

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting The Biggest Bang For Your Cluck

     Aww man, see what I did there? Somewhere right now I made my mother snort in laughter, I'd bet anything. Ok, so here we go. I've been preparing for this for a few days now and I'm psyched. I'm going to to show you how to seriously maximize a chicken.

     First things are first. Remember how I always say to keep your eyes out for good deals so that you can capitalize on them? Well I did that last weekend at the Farmer's Market. Meat, of any kind, is really the ONLY food I won't cut corners on- even once in a while. I will only buy it at the Farmer's Market because I will only feed my girls local, hormone free, grass fed (beef), free range, anything. Because they are going to encounter enough hormones in everything else in their lives, and for SO many other reasons, I just won't budge on this issue. So, yes, meat is typically my big expense. Which is why I buy halves of pigs and look for simple savings where I can. So, back to the market. We typically buy our poultry and eggs (and the occasional rabbit pie for Papi, my grandfather) from Maine-ly Poultry and they always have a fair price no matter what. This week we had the choice of, "kinda small birds, or big ones, I mean real big", he said. I saw an opportunity to capitalize on using a large bird. So we went for it and took home a 8.28 pound bird (which is the biggest chicken I've ever seen) for $28. That's $3.38 per pound, as compared to $1.79 per pound for a Perdue whole roasting chicken at the local grocery store. But, again (sorry here's my soap box), there are hundreds of reports and articles, like this one, detailing how terribly these birds are raised, and how terrible they are for us to consume. Check out any one of the detailed documentaries on Netflix even. I know this seems like a lot of money to some people but I save money in so many other ways, and feel so passionately about this topic that I'm steadfast. Whew....onto the cooking!

     So an 8 1/4 pound bird is pretty enormous and I'm going to get 3 whole dishes and 2 bonus items from it! The first thing we do, and by "we" I clearly mean my husband, is pull out all the organs left for us by the kind farmer in case we are the type who likes offal. We are not (but we do give it to Papi). I do feel compelled to mention, however, that if you did like offal (organs and such) you could get yet another meal out of this chicken! Ok, so we finish cleaning the bird and dress it very simply with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper and place it on a roasting pan. I toss it into a preheated oven at 350 degF for 20 minutes per pound. That makes just about 3 hours for our lady. When it comes out it is golden, has crispy skin, juicy meat and smells amazing. The entire thing was meat, I swear. One breast fed all four of us with sauteed green beans and couscous.

One meal, down!

     During dinner we also made one of our bonus items: gravy. We poured off the drippings from the roasting pan and put it on a hot stove. We thickened it with a standard roux and added some dry sage, salt, pepper, and herbs to our taste. It was amazing, and for me as someone who loves gravy, was a highlight.

      After dinner my husband picked the rest of the bird. First he cut the other breast off and then continued by cutting and physically picking the meat off of the legs, thighs, wings and remaining breast/chest. We reserved the bones and skin in another bowl as well. The meat was put into plastic containers and refrigerated.

     Later that night I got started on our second bonus item: chicken stock. I placed the clean carcass and the reserved bones in a large stock pot (lobster pot). I also added one of my "vegetable stock freezer bags" and a little salt and pepper. I covered the carcass with water and put it on the stove to boil for about a half hour and then come down to be left at a simmer. Occasionally checking it, I let it reduce down the pot roughly an inch. This took about 5 hours and my house smelled freaking amazing! It tasted great. When it was done, I strained it into a large bowl using my colander. Then I placed the colander over another bowl to accumulate drippings (I got about another 1 1/2 cups of liquid after letting it drip for 15 minutes). After that the liquid got put back into the pot and given an ice bath in the sink to cool it down. We were able to produce about 1 1/2 gallons of homemade chicken stock for almost no effort at all and absolutely no extra cost. This will enrich vegetable soups, chicken soups, cous cous, polenta, and so many other things. From there the stock gets packed in plastic containers and sent to the deep freeze to await use.    


     The next day we got to work on the other two meals. First up was daddy's chicken stew, one of the girls' favorites. For the stew he used the meat he pulled from the wings, thighs, legs, and breast/chest area. He did not use the giant breast itself and we still had plenty of meat. It was cubed and added to a hot pan that already had onions, carrots and celery working away. He added salt, pepper, and herbs and spices to taste. Then he added a bit of roux and enough water to just cover the ingredients (we want it thick, it's a stew, but add more water and no roux for soup instead). He let it come to a boil to activate the roux and then brought it down to a high simmer until we got the consistency we were hoping for. Now, I don't know about you, but I can only eat so much chicken in a week. So, this is was also destined for the deep freeze. Now, some week in the future, when things may be extra tight, I have a meal ready to go. When we serve it Daddy will undoubtedly whip up some drop biscuits to go with it. 

Two meals, down!

     We saved the best for last and made my all time favorite chicken dish: jerk chicken. We took the remaining breast and sliced it super thick and put it in the hot cast iron pot with some onions and dry jerk seasoning. I like mine very hot so we added a lot of seasoning. We also added about a 1/4 cup of beer and 2 cups of water. We let it come up to a boil, covered. Then, let it boil for about 15 minutes, then brought it down to a high simmer for about 1 hour, and then down further to a low simmer for around 2 hours. This process of braising made the chicken melt-in-your-mouth tender and so full of flavor. My oldest won't eat this and I will only let my youngest eat a little (because it is spicy and though she loves she won't cut herself off and I worry about her belly and her diaper) so this is actually going to be my lunch for the next 4-5 days. I will eat it on its own or as a sandwich, maybe with some eggs or as a quesadilla. In any event, the third meal ended up being a multiple meal lunch. As a mom, who rarely gets to eat lunch, let alone one I truly love, this is pretty epic!


Three meals, down!

     Now, truth be told, the night after we had roast chicken for dinner I actually had a cold chicken sandwich with some mayo, tomato, and lettuce. So, I count that as an extra, third, bonus item because we still had tons of meat. And, if I'm being fair, the dried wishbone we saved was hidden bonus number four. My oldest daughter LOVES to pull the wishbone and make a wish, she gets so into it! That enthusiasm and excitement alone is worth every penny and certainly makes it a bonus item.

     So there you have it. For $28 I had the protein (and most of the other stuff is stuff I had on hand or very minimal) I needed for 3 full meals, 1 1/2 gallons of chicken stock, a gravy, and a wish. I am more than ok with that, especially considering I also have peace of mind knowing and trusting the source of the meat. I am one happy camper.

That's what I call getting the biggest bang for your cluck!

Simple City Sam

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Citrus Vinegar

     Today was an exciting day! At least for someone that doesn't get a lot of excitement in her life it was. Today I got to test out my new orange infused vinegar. I am loving it! Why do I need orange infused vinegar, you ask? Well, because I'm not a fan of the smell of vinegar.

     Vinegar has hundreds of uses just for cleaning purposes, let alone cooking uses. The problem is that when sanitizing and deodorizing with vinegar everything just ends up smelling like...well, vinegar. I'm sorry, I don't want to live in pickle, or smell like one.

     I've infused oils and vinegars many times before but always for cooking purposes (ooh, we'll have to cover that topic soon too!). The idea just clicked one day. I could infuse a vinegar strictly for cleaning.

     I grabbed a bottle with a cap that would seal air tightly. Then I peeled 3 oranges (giving some of the fruit to my girls for snack and the rest for myself) and stuffed the peels into the bottle. Trying to stuff the peels into a bottle already containing vinegar would have been a nightmare. Once the bottle was full of peels I then topped it off with the white vinegar (much easier). Then I put it under the sink and let it sit for 2 weeks, hence my anticipated excitement.


     When I pulled it out and opened it up the fragrance was crisp, orange-y and clean. The fainest of lingering vinegar smells was there too, but not enough really to notice. I added this mixture to my in-trial-stage homemade dish soap and was so impressed. I still had the grease cutting power of the vinegar but my sink water, hands and plates didn't smell of it. Success!

     I immediately grabbed another empty bottle to make another infusion. This vinegar I have infused with lemon. I will put it in a spray bottle with water and have a kitchen cleaner that will be unstoppable and smell divine! The cleaning power of vinegar and lemon really can't be beat. I am thrilled to have another, super simple weapon in my cleaning arsenal.

Happy cleaning.

Simple City Sam

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Cutting Board Conundrum

     I have found that sometimes the easiest way to simplify is to make sure I have the proper equipment or tool for the job. One of the best examples of this for me was our cutting board situation. Years ago (before kids and newly married) I was hooked on all the trendy kitchen gear. I had 3 over sized cutting boards , all in different shapes, sizes, and types of wood. I was constantly scrubbing and disinfecting the boards, which was a pain in the buns because each trendy kind of wood had it's own trendy way of cleaning it. Then I had a couple of glass ones too, but they were obnoxious to use because the were loud and fragile. There was no rhyme or reason to the boards. They were just "cute" or "nice". By the time prep was over for any given meal my sink was full of cutting boards alone!

     Something had to give. Then I thought about all those countless restaurants I've worked in over the years. Theirs were always plastic. It's durable, easy to clean and easy to store. They also used a color coding system, not because it was cute but because it was practical.

     If you only ever cut chicken, meat, fish, and/or vegetables on one specific board, and nothing else on that board, the risk of cross contamination is non-existent. I started looking for something practical along these new lines that would work for me. I found a four pack of thin plastic cutting sheets. They are every bit as strong as a big board and take up a fraction of the space. Even better they were color coded. Even better than that, they were $10 for the set! I found mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but I have since seen them basically anywhere kitchen stuff is sold.

     Now they store neatly on top of my microwave and you can barely see them there. They can go into any dishwasher or be washed down quickly and easily by hand. To keep them from moving around on my counter I just place a damp paper towel flat under the sheet.

Red: Beef, pork and red meats
Yellow: Chicken and poultry
Green: Vegetables, fruits, and cheeses
Blue: Fish and sea foods
(These classifications are almost universal...I'm not reinventing the wheel here, just simplifying.)


     With these four sheets I have streamlined my kitchen and made my cleanliness and sanitation that much more efficient. They are always at the top of my list when I'm asked what does every kitchen really NEED?

Simple City Sam

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Olivia Act

     December 14, 2012 has become a day that many Americans will never forget. Even more so, it has become a day that (dare I say) NO parent could ever forget. The tragedy in Newton, Connecticut that resulted in the end of so many lives, mostly 1st graders, has left a hole in the hearts of so many. One of the victims was young Olivia Engle. Olivia's family had the fortune of having family photos taken just weeks before the tragedy. The recent photos have, reportedly, been a great comfort to her family. As much as anything can be a comfort in this time of great sadness.

     This got some professional photographers thinking and The Olivia Act was born. The idea is that a photographer donates his or her time to a family who, perhaps, would be unable to afford services otherwise. Thus, giving the family a lasting memory all in the name of a little girl lost. Photographers and other service industry people all around the country are participating in this cause, strictly to give back to their communities and to honor those memories.

     I was contacted out of the blue by a photographer that I knew through other friends, very casually. Peter Bissell of PeterJensenBissell Photographic offered to donate his time and service to my family to provide us with this beautiful gift. I was completely unaware of The Olivia Act at the time and began looking into it. I was blown away by some of the stories across the country. I was immediately humbled and honored. To be included in something so genuine and honest was really touching for me.

     How could I say no?! We told the girls they could wear whatever they wanted, we really wanted this to be a true representation of us as a family. Sparkly dresses it was then for the girls and jeans and tattoos for Mommy and Daddy.  On January 5th we headed downtown and to Peter's studio. Perfectly urban in a downtown, second floor walk-up his studio was set just right. It was simple, just our style. With a stark white background he was able to capture nothing but pure personality from my girls and us as a family at large. After a half hour of his time he assured us "we got it" and we were off to enjoy the rest of the day.

     I couldn't help but well up a little as we drove away. Knowing I had participated in something meaningful and that I would soon have photographic memories of my too-quickly-growing children was a bit overwhelming. More overwhelming than that was actually viewing the photos. They were to us in about 2 weeks and I was blown away! They are truly special to me and so simple. What could be more perfect?

     I HIGHLY recommend Peter Bissell for any photographic needs you may have. He is a true professional and a pretty upstanding guy in my opinion. This was certainly an experience that will resonate with me for the entirety of my life.

A few moments of kindness by one has brought me a experience that I will never forget. Thank you Peter!

Simple City Sam

Thursday, January 17, 2013

3 Ingredient Smoothies, 2 Ways

     With the sun out in full force today I was inspired to make one of our favorite summer treats: smoothies. I know there are like a bagillion smoothie recipes out there. This is not one of those "super power" "super foods". It is, however, yummy, not terrible for you, and above all simple. This recipe has 3 ingredients and I'll be able to make a smoothie and a dessert treat all from one preparation.

     I think a blender may be the best tool for the job. We don't have one so I use our food processor and it works great. You could also use an immersion blender (stick blender, shaft blender). You just want to make sure you've got something with a good blade.

3 Ingredient Smoothie
Frozen berries or fruit of your choice
Plain yogurt
Juice of your choice

Step 1:  Add about 1 cup of frozen fruit, 1 cup of yogurt, and 1/4 cup of juice to the processor. You can eye this out. I'm making enough for two girls and a little extra. You can play with the ratios to get desired consistency. Start with only a little juice, it's easier to thin a smoothie than to add more yogurt and berries...then you'd have too much.
Step 2: Blend. I like to pulse the processor at first and make sure the berries are moving, then just let it go. Pour and enjoy!

     Now for making the dessert treat. You know I love my freezer so I pour the extra smoothie into my silicon muffin pan and stick it in the freezer. In a few hours they are frozen I pop them out and put them into a plastic container to store.
     Tonight we'll have a real treat. It's essentially sorbet, which pairs so well with chocolate! My girls will be in heaven. These "smoothie sorbet rounds" freeze pretty hard, harder than the yogurt discs we've already made for sure. I recommend taking them out of the freezer for a few minutes before serving so that you can get your spoon through them .

     So, for all of 5 minutes prep and make time I had a healthy snack and desert for the kids. As an added bonus my hubby really likes these too! There are so many different combinations. It all depends on the fruit and juice you choose. Stick with the plain yogurt either way, it's just a thickener not really a flavor adder. We tend to lean more toward the berry blends but we do love one with pineapple juice, and frozen mango too. In the summer I'll make one before I walk the half hour to work. I look so trendy and hip with my smoothie and it costs a fraction of what the boutique smoothie shops in town charge. It's great for giving me the energy I need to make it through a long bartending or serving shift.

Hurry up Summer, I'm ready.

Simple City Sam 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Body Wash

     So when I said before that my first foray into DIY products and saving money was my liquid hand soap, I lied...kinda. It is true that the first thing I attempted was liquid hand soap, but there are so many recipes out there that trial and error has got to be a part of the process. This was one of the first recipes, albeit now modified, that I ever tried as a liquid hand soap. It was successful in many ways. It was liquid, it was soap, I could use on my hands. But it was unsuccessful too.

     Don't get me wrong, I know there are properties of homemade soaps that one must get used to. It will not lather in your hands like we are used to. No biggie, I know bubbles don't equal cleanliness. It may congeal or separate between use, again, I can handle shaking the jar every once in a while. What I couldn't get past was the consistency. Ick! I could rationalize it just fine, but I just couldn't get over the "mucus" feeling. I blame it on having to wipe little noses all day. Regardless, I was not comfortable with it so I knew the rest of the family would be a hard sell. That's when I started experimenting with different soaps, recipes, and ultimately came up with my own liquid hand soap that takes care of all those issues. Problem solved.

     What was I going to do with the gallon of soap I had made though? I'm clearly not a waster, I couldn't just toss it out. I was determined to use it somehow, so I started using it in the shower as a body wash. Switching venues didn't solve any issues, go figure. Then I started using it with my loofah. Wait a minute. Hold the phone. Something was different. Gone was the mucus consistency. Present was this amazing lather. Was it really that simple? Yep. That was it, the loofah was magic. I still wasn't crazy about the bar brand I had chosen but now I had direction. After a few more attempts I had it mastered (and several non-picky friends had gallons of trial soap to use). I have specifically chosen this bar of soap because it is mild on our skin and has a faint fragrance. I don't like messing around with essential oils, honestly, but I also don't want a lot of fragrance or any perfume in the bar. This bar works great for us and our kids AND it's only $1.79 for the 3 pack. So here goes, my homemade body wash.

Body Wash
You'll need to break out those trusty liquid soap making items: stock pot, grater, and funnel (if you've got one).

1 gallon purified water                                                                                               8 oz Dial Basics bar soap                                                                                           2 tablespoons liquid Glycerin    
Step 1: Pour the gallon of water into the stock pot and turn heat on med-high. (Don't let the soap boil.)
Step 2: Grate 8 ounces of bar soap. The soap is found as a 3 pack of 3.2 oz bars, so use 2 and a half bars. Add the shavings to the water.
Step 3: Once the shavings are completely melted (will just look like soapy water), add 2 tablespoons Glycerin.
Step 4: Remove from heat and let set 8-10 hours. Do not cover. Once set you'll be able to leave fingerprints by pressing on the soap gently, but not breaking through. (There's no way to let it sit too long.)


Step 5:  Whisk it up! I use an immersion blender (a.k.a. stick blender, shaft blender) because I have one and it makes this process quicker. All you need to do is stir up the soap with a wooden spoon and/or whisk to get it back to it's liquid consistency. It will still be a little on the "mucusy" side but that's ok.

Step 6: Funnel soap into the empty gallon container and/or an old empty squeeze bottle for the shower. Remember the secret trick: use the loofah!

     There you have it. What originally started as a mistake I wasn't willing to waste turned out to be a perfect, simple recipe for homemade body wash. I gave this body wash and my liquid hand soap as gifts for Christmas this year and have received excellent feedback. I prefer this mixture to using, say, just my hand soap as a body wash. This wash leaves your skin feeling clean and soft without feeling stripped. I hope you have as much success as I have had with it.

It just goes to show that sometimes great things come from mistakes.

Simple City Sam

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The "Ethnic" Aisle

     I find it so odd that we feel this overwhelming desire to label and categorize everything. The "Ethnic" aisle at the grocery store especially reminds me of this. Why must we label anything not from the U.S as "ethnic"? Isn't American an ethnicity? Why isn't there an ethnic American section? Probably because they already call that the frozen aisle. In any event, the "ethnic" aisles are where you'll find everything from rice and soy sauce, to salsa and matzo mix.

     I've already touched on how really planning your grocery list and sticking to it can save you money. Of course there are tricks to helping your budget stretch even further, once you've mastered the list and planning stages. I know there are TONS of people out there who clip coupons and can buy a cart full of groceries for $3.67. I am not one of those people. Yes, I like a coupon as much as the next gal, but I refuse to spend extra moments of my day searching for them. I scan the fliers that come my way and grab in-store coupons when I see them. I always enter my diaper code points and save my UPC codes for liquor bottle rebates (those add up!) too. But that's about as far as I've been able to bring myself thus far.

     I've also mentioned how shopping at the right location can help your cause. There are countless discount programs, it seems each store has there own, for Pete's sake. Take a few minutes and scope out one for a drug store or discount club nearby. If the details fit your needs then take advantage! Of course we all know about off-brand shopping too. Don't buy the brand name if you can help it, the store brand or others will always be less expensive.

     There are hidden tricks too. Tricks you may never hear about because they are so simple they are often overlooked. In my blog post, "Makin and Grocery List, and Checkin it Twice" I explain that nearly all items that are packaged in the produce section can also be found in a "buy by the weight" capacity. There is no need to buy a 8 oz carton of button mushrooms if all I need is 4 mushrooms. Pick and bag 4 mushrooms and let the cashier weigh out the price at the register. I guarantee the cost will be less and so will your waste.

     Well, the "Ethnic" aisle is another one of those super secret hidden tricks. These aisles are FULL of , what we would call (apparently) normal, everyday food. But here's the thing: it's all cheaper than it is four aisles over! Take, for instance, corn meal. Most people will find the corn meal in the baking aisle, next to the flour and such.

     Now, if you're lucky you will have a couple to choose from. The Quaker corn meal is usually the only kind available and is $2.19 for 24 ounces. I struck gold here and had the Indian Head brand available for $1.59 for 32 ounces!! The two are a slightly different product in that the Indian Head is stone ground and will likely be more coarse than the Quaker brand. If you're not picky, go for the Indian Head, it is clearly the better buy. However, if you prefer the more fine ground product you still have another option: the "Ethnic" aisle.

     It's true you will find smaller amounts of packaging in this aisle, but that only makes me like it more. Here I found the same kind of corn meal, supplied by Goya, for $1.89 for 24 ounces. That's 30 cents less than the Quaker. Why? Because it's in a bag, not a cardboard carton? That has something to do with it. To be honest, I don't care to much. I'm just glad I saved myself money, minimizing waste is an added bonus.

     I will also buy rice, tortillas, Ramen noodles and coconut milk in this aisle, among other treats I stumble across. When buying staple items especially, these aisles really come in handy. You can easily shave $5-$10 off your weekly grocery bill, if not more. I did.

Happy Hunting.

Simple City Sam

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kale Chips

     I flipping LOVE kale chips. My girls do too. In fact, they are my youngest's favorite snack. She literally jumps up and down when I make them, and they have become my "go to" snack at movie time instead of popcorn. The only downside to kale chips comes when and if you have a child who is still wearing diapers. If you don't understand what I'm saying it's safe to assume you won't encounter said issue and we can all just move on from here.

     I have had several friends ask for kale chip recipes. I feel badly giving them the instruction because it can barely be called a recipe in my mind. Never-the-less, they all seem to have luck after trying out my method. Kale chips, as with most things, require a bit of attention to achieve what you're looking for. Attention, and not much else.

     Alright, so in case you haven't gathered as much yet, I go for simple and easy. This recipe is in keeping with the theme. Prep time will be about 5 minutes and cook time will be roughly 20-30 minutes.

Kale Chips
preheat oven 350 deg F

Step 1: Take a bunch of kale and separate the stalks. (If pulled fresh from a garden, it may be cut right below the leaves). Wash the stalks.

Step 2: Pull the leaves from the stalks. At this point, rip the leaves roughly, as well. It's true that the kale will shrink as it bakes, however the full bunch is a lot of kale just the same. I am actually going to split this in two and refrigerate half of it in a plastic container, giving me a second serving later this week or next.

Step 3: Pat the leaves dry with a paper towel. This is CRUCIAL. This is a "make or break" moment! The leaves must be dry!

Step 4: Place leaves on a baking tray. Coat lightly in olive oil*, salt and pepper. (If the leaves are still wet they will not coat evenly or properly) Place in oven for 10 minutes. *Any oil can be used here and I've had success with Canola before. I just prefer the flavor olive oil to any of the others.

Step 5: After 10 minutes, toss the leaves and place back in the oven for 10 more minutes . Getting air around all parts of the leaves will help them cook evenly and crisp without burning. Repeat up to 2 more times. My girls and I like them extra crispy so I usually cook mine for about 25-28 minutes (so I toss mine twice). MOST people seem to prefer them right around the 20 minute mark.

Step 6:  Consume. Preferably in your most comfy Elmo "jammies".

     I will, usually, only make enough for one serving at a time. They will stay crispy and yummy for about 6 hours, unrefrigerated. After that, they usually start to get chewy. Also, they can be pretty crumbly. My youngest almost always has a kale chip "gote" on her face and a "dusting" on her hands and shirt. It's worth it, though. The bunch cost $2.99 at the local grocery store. During the summer I will get a seedling 6 pack at the Farmer's Market for around $5 or so and grow my own. Then I will be up to my elbows in kale, but for now, it's the market and grocery store. Even still, it's a great price for 2 healthy, crunchy, salty snacks, that my kids love. Simple. 

Happy snacking.

Simple City Sam 

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