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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's purple and firm and shiny all over ?

Remember our New Year's Resolution? You know, the one where we said we wouldn't buy something simply because it was on sale.  Well, that particular resolution was made in an attempt to curb our (okay...EN's) impulsive spending, since it is so easy to justify a third pair of red patent heels with "but they were half off!"  What we're learning however is that sometimes it is just the thrill of the sale that is tempting, and not necessarily the item on sale.

Case in point.  This week at the grocery store EN was shopping.   Keeping away from the center aisles, which is where all the costly pre-packed and processed food is found, she scoured the perimeter of the store in search of the fruits, veggies, dairy products and meats on her list. (Hmmm....all this talking in the 3rd person is weird...I think I'll just take over this entry  - EN :) ).

So, there I was, doing a mighty good job of shopping for the items we had identified for the meals we had planned out for the week.  And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shelf full of pre-packaged eggplants...on sale.  Eggplants were not on our list.  They weren't on our list because, except for me, no one in our house likes eggplant, and even I'm not crazy about them.  But, the eggplant was ON SALE.  I walked over for a closer inspection and found that the packages included about 5 eggplants each (big eggplants!) and the whole lot of them were $1.39.  Seriously !!! Who could pass that up (well, maybe lots of people...but not me).

So, into the cart the eggplants went and I actually started to feel quite excited about the possibilities.  My mind raced as I imagined all of the delicious and delectable treats I could whip up which would make eggplant fans of my whole family.  Fried eggplant slices, eggplant parmesan, stuffed eggplant, eggplant dip...the options were endless.  And with so many eggplants, I could try them all !!!!  I may have actually been humming in the check-out line. 

Excited, I got home and immediately announced that the eggplant was on sale!  My proclamation was met with a 9 years old's "Gross", a 7 year old's "What's eggplant?" and a 40 year old's "Why did you buy eggplant?" Only the dog was excited (but then again, she's always excited). Undettered, I was intent upon using up every last bit of ... the many eggplants I had purchased...ON SALE !

Well, good intentions do not a meal make.  It has been 4 days since the great eggplant purchase.  Despite the fact that there have been 4 suppers made during that time (not to mention lunches), the eggplants remain un-used in the refrigerator.  Not being a regular eggplant purchaser, I don't even know how long these poor vegetables can keep before they are no longer edible.  But they are on my mind (obviously).  Tomorrow is a day at home with the girls - I foresee some creative culinary adventures starring the aubergine in our very near future.  Anyone wanna come over for supper?

xoxo The Tightwads (well, Economia Nia actually ;) )

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When life gives you rotting bananas....

There are few things we hate more than waste.  Waste results in unnecessary garbage, pollutes our environment and tends to cost money.  In our home, we have learned to deal with waste in one of the following ways: we recycle, we re-use, we re-invent, we compost and we discard.  By paying close attention to how we manage our waste, and by carefully making purchases which will ultimately produce the least amount of waste, we have reduced the amount of stuff that we simply throw out by a whole lot.

One of the things that we hate to simply get rid of is food.  Whereas many people hate leftovers...we LOVE fact, we thrive on them.  It is rare that you will find us composting or throwing away food - because unless it is spoiled (and it should not get to the point where it is spoiled) there is always something to do with it.  So, cheese rinds are kept in the refrigerator or freezer until they can be used to flavor soup, leftover spaghetti sauce goes through a metamorphosis, becoming a delish chili and seen-better-days-veggies are tossed together into stir-frys.

And bananas....well, bananas present their own unique challenges.  Have you ever noticed that bananas can go from "just perfectly ripe" to "yikes...what the heck am I going to do with all these rotting bananas" in about 4 hours ??!!  What a crazy fruit ! So, in an attempt to keep you all from tossing these nutrient rich treats into the compost heap or (yikes) the garbage are a few suggestions for your rotting bananas.

1.  An over-ripe banana  may be yucky to eat, but works really well in a smoothie.  Try mixing a banana with some milk or soy milk, frozen yogurt and some frozen berries.  Or, try making our 7 year old's favorite drink: banana milk.  Put some milk in a glass, blend in a banana...ta dah...banana milk !

2. Over-ripe bananas make delicious dessert.  How about some Banana's FlambĂ© (also called Bananas Foster (we think))? Melt lots of butter and combine it with brown sugar in a sauce pan.  When hot and bubbly, add some sliced up bananas and heat them through.  Add a splash of cognac and, if you are feeling particularly ambitious, set a match to it....flambĂ© ! (no worries if you are too afraid of singeing your eyebrows..the flame adds only dramatic effect and no flavor).  Pour over ice-cream or pound cake or both.  YUM !

3. Bake a banana bread.  Here is the most fantastic banana bread recipe ever, adapted from the Jewish General Hospital's cookbook called Panache.  Not only is it delicious, it makes plenty.  There is enough batter to fill a loaf pan and a bundt pan (or three loaf pans).  Freeze what you won't consume immediately or share with your friends. And, speaking of freezing...if you find yourself with lots of very ripe bananas but no time to use them before they are no longer usable...pop them into the freezer.  Just thaw them on the counter when you are ready to bake with them...we are convinced this makes them even sweeter.  Keep in mind that freezing them may make the skin and flesh turn a bizarre dark brown / black color...this is normal :)


It takes about 20 minutes to whip this together, and another hour to bake.


2 cups whole wheat or whole grain flour
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
2 1/3 cups sugar (we use a mix of brown and white sugar)
1 cup vegetable oil
8 very ripe bananas (we know, we know...that's a lot of bananas !)
1/4 cup sour cream or applesauce or plain yogourt
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups walnuts or chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Whisk together to blend well the flours, cinnamon, and salt.
In another bowl beat the eggs, sugar, and oil.
To the egg mixture, slowly mix in the flour mixture.  Once combined, mix in the bananas.  Then, add and mix in the remaining ingredients.

Pour into 3 loaf pans or 1 loaf pan and a bundt pan (greased and lined with parchment pan).  Bake in the middle of oven for about an hour (or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean).

Could this be any easier ???!!!! 

The Tightwads

Monday, March 14, 2011

Disney on a dime

We Tightwads feel really lucky to have just spent a week during March break in Orlando visiting Universal Studios and the Disney World Theme Parks with our girls.  Actually, truth is, this was our third visit in about 2 and 1/2 years.  Very "un-Tightwad like" you may be thinking, but the there is a way to make a Disney vacation affordable.  Each time we have gone, we have done things a little differently.  So, here are our simple tips on how to save some bucks while not missing out on the fun.

Tip 1: If you are going to stay at a Disney resort, think about one of their budget hotels.  Disney classifies their resorts as either Budget, Moderate, or Luxury.  The difference is the quality of the rooms, the hotel amenities and the proximity to the parks.  Truth be told, we have only ever stayed at the Budget hotels, (we are Tightwads after all :) )for a few reasons.  One reason is obviously the price, and the fact that we don't really care too much about the hotel, as our main reason for going to Disney World is to ride the roller coasters and to see the Princesses.  Spending time at the hotel is not high on our list of priorities, especially since you are free to dine at and visit the Luxury hotels if you wish too.

We have stayed at both All Star Movies and All Star Sports Resorts.  The latter, which was where we stayed this last trip, was by far a better experience. Our room was newly renovated, the pool was fantastic, and transportation to the parks was super easy using the shuttle buses, which run regularly and are free for resort guests.  In some cases, the shuttle buses travel to all 3 All Star Resorts (Movies, Sports and Music) before heading to the parks, and then on the return as well.  Due to it's location, All Star Sports is the first pick up spot of the 3 and the first drop off spot.  Incredibly important since first on pretty much guarantees you a seat on the bus (much appreciated by tired little legs), and first off means you are back in your room sooner rather than later (again, much appreciated by tired little and not so little legs). 

Although when we stayed at All Star Movies our room had not been updated in a long while (think aqua laminate furniture - yikes!), in both of our stays in Budget Resorts the staff was Disney friendly, and the rooms were spotless.

Tip 2:  If you are staying on site, choose a meal plan.  The first time we went to Disney, we actually drove (how can two girls travel 24 hours to and fro without arguing for a moment, when they can't even make it home from school without wanting to pull each others hair out is a mystery to us...but we digress).  That time, we rented a condo/hotel with a full kitchen.  We had breakfast in our hotel, packed a lunch and had dinner back at the condo.  Definitely a money saver - but having to cook during a vacation sometimes sucks.  Our second trip, we just paid as we went....and did we ever pay!  Eating at the theme parks is costly!  So, this time we got a meal plan, made our reservations before we traveled, and enjoyed being able to eat our meals, and snacks, without having to pay for anything but tips.  Nice. 

Tip 3:  Don't get suckered into buying stupid souvenirs.  Yeah...that Goofy hat with the floppy ears is really cute when you're riding Splash Mountain...but what are you going to do with that thing when you get home???  Same goes for Mickey ears,  Fantasia hats and Fairy wings.  Unless you are convinced that you will cry with regret for years because you passed on this purchase ...pass.

Tip 4:   Take pictures of your pictures.  We think that some of the funniest pictures ever are the ones that are taken of you when you're on these crazy rides. Your mouth is wide open because you're screaming with fear or excitement (or both), you have this psychotic look in your eyes, and the Goofy ears on the stupid hat you're wearing are flopping in the wind.  Hilarious ! and if you want to take the memory home, it will cost you about 20$.  Now, although we didn't do this ourselves, we did see other riders taking out their cameras and snapping photos of their photos as they were being displayed on screens in an attempt to lure you into purchasing them.  When EN commented to another lady that this was a smart idea, she said that the pictures come out a bit blurry....but we bet they're still funny.

 Tip 5:  Speaking of pictures...Disney has a great service called PhotoPass.  There are photographers scattered all over the parks, ready to snap your picture, which is then loaded onto a PhotoPass card.  When you get home (or even in certain locations in the parks), you can view your photos, email them to friends for a limited time, and purchase them.  They are really nice, but again, pretty expensive.  We learned that if you give your own camera to the photographer, he or she will take the same shot with it..and then you have essentially the same pose...for nothing.  Pretty smart huh?

Tip 6:  We're actually not sure how we feel about this...but it IS a money saver...and we did see lots of people doing it.  Picture the scene. You are having a buffet breakfast.  The food is aplenty, and, generally quite yummy.  You load your plate with things that are fried, sauced and generally unhealthy.  To compensate, you grab a few apples or bananas.  Lo and behold, after scarfing down your meal, you find that you have no more room for the fruit you lovingly chose.  What to do???? Putting it back would be unhygienic, throwing it away is wasteful. Oh, how about just tucking that banana into your backpack, for a snack when you feel know, instead of buying a banana later on.  We did this once with a couple of apples.  EN felt guilty, FF didn't think about it too much (he wasn't carrying the backpack!), but when the girls were hungry a few hours later..tah dah...Disney magic...the apples made an appearance. 

Tip 7: If you decide to go to Universal Studios (do go !  the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is phenomenal), stay at a Universal "affiliated" hotel.  These are MUCH cheaper than the 3 Universal hotels and most offer transportation to the Universal Parks, and extra hours, so that you can enter the park an hour early - a must, especially if you go in a busy season.  We stayed at the Fairmount was great. The price was reasonable, the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful, the room was basic but spotless, the pool was great, and a yummy continental breakfast was included.

Tip 8: If you book your Disney vacation on-line through the Disney website, check it periodically, up until your departure date.  If there is a sale that comes out after you have booked, Disney will honor it.  Thanks to this good advice, we saved 350$ this year.  With the money we saved we could have bought about 15 sets of Mickey ears !!! (but we didn't).

Tip 9: Set a spending budget and stick to it.  This is really easy if you have a meal plan, because your food costs are already accounted for.  There are so many nice things to buy both at Universal Studios and the Disney Theme parks.  Decide how much you want to spend on souvenirs and gifts, and stick to it.  If you're traveling with children, it's doesn't hurt to remind them that they can't have EVERYTHING they see.

So, although a Disney vacation can be costly, it doesn't have to break the bank.  Shop around, cut corners that don't really matter to you, and enjoy a beautiful and magical really is one of the happiest places on earth.

Happy travels
The Tightwads