Monthly Archives: February 2012

Roasting garlic

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Cost: Under a dollar
Success: 5/5

One day while walking along Fraser street, I passed $3 bags of garlic at one of the independent grocery stores. At first I walked past, but I couldn’t get the giant bags of cheap garlic out of my mind.

I gave about half of it away to co-workers and friends, and I was still left with more garlic than I knew what to do with.

I decided to roast some. It was really easy, inexpensive, and had gourmet results.

I put a bunch of garlic in a bakeware dish and filled it up with oil. I added some rosemary, oregano and lavender (hey, why not?)

I quickly discovered that the oil boils over – aaak! I turned off the oven, cleaned every last bit of oil that had dripped onto the element, and tried again with a pie pan underneath.

At first I covered the dish with tinfoil, and I took it off near the end. I think I cooked it for 30 minutes on 350 Fahrenheit. It may have taken longer. When the insides are squishy, it’s done. It will look like this:

Once it cooled down, I put it into a glass jar along with the oil. Whenever I need some roasted garlic, I poke one out with a toothpick. It’s so soft that I don’t need to chop it up or put it through the garlic press.

American gas

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Cost: $0.90/L vs. $1.30/L
Success: 4/5

I always fill up my tank in the US. I carefully ration and add gas so that I arrive in Bellingham with as empty a tank as is safely possible.  Gas is just so much cheaper down there.

Last week I spent $43 filling my tank, and the same amount of gas would have been about $62.20 here. (The math is easy since the American and Canadian dollar are at par right now.)

Since it takes about a third of a tank to go to Bellingham and back (140km), it’s not worth going just for the gas, but it works out well for me since my boyfriend lives down there.

Jen makes chicken fingers

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Cost: About $6
Success: 2/5  (Taste was okay, price was high)

When I saw a recipe for honey mustard chicken fingers using only a few ingredients, I got pretty excited. The photo on the site shows golden brown chicken strips that look like they are saturated with the kind of flavour that makes my tastebuds sing and my arteries weep.

I was eager to get home and make some of my own.  Really eager. I spent a good part of the day thinking about sinking my teeth into each crunchy morsel.

I got out two fresh chicken breasts ($5.66) and my other ingredients. I followed the instructions. I made the sauce. I baked the chicken strips.

The dipping sauce was delicious. The chicken strips… not so much. The mayonnaise made them very tender, but despite that they were devoid of any character. I had to souse them with dipping sauce.

And what did these lifeless and bland chicken strips cost me? The same as they would have at a fast food place!

Scavenging at the library

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Cost: Free
Success: 3/5 (the selection’s lame but the price is right!)

The other day after my boyfriend finished his volunteer shift, he showed me the carts of free books in the basement of the Bellingham library. There was a book by the author of Sex and the City, which was a book before it was a TV show. I took that one.

Sometimes libraries will give away old books, or sell them for low low prices. These books are not exactly the pick of the litter, but I’ve seen some decent ones.

The more obvious thing to do at the library would be to get a card and actually borrow books. It’s been on my list.

The surprising success of salad soup

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Cost:  Under $1
Success:  5/5

I’ve found it takes a mix of proactivity, creativity and desperation to use up all the food in my fridge before it goes bad. To get some help with the last one, I decided not to buy groceries this week.

I wasn’t sure what to do with my big bag of aging, discoloured and slightly slimy mixed salad (iceberg lettuce, red cabbage and carrots) so I asked my friend Jolene if she had any good ideas. She suggested making a cabbage soup. I have such clever friends.

This is how I made my loose adaptation of the recipe; I boiled some green tea, added lots of mixed salad, a tomato, half an onion, beef stock and ground pepper. I boiled it for about 10 minutes.

This soup had a lot working against it. I didn’t have all of the ingredients from the recipe, and putting lettuce into a soup just seemed weird. My mixed salad was looking pretty sad too.

I was expecting something barely edible, but it was actually really good! It reminded me of some of the soups and stews my Grandma used to make. It had a slightly Eastern European flavour, and while I was eating it I felt like it must be good for me on some level.

With a little help from my friends…

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Cost:  Only slightly less than hiring a mover
Success: 1/5 for cost, 4/5 for loving care of valuables

Most of the money-saving experiments I write about are successful or moderately successful. I know that gets boring after a while. People don’t watch American Idol just to see the good singers, and they don’t read the paper for the stories about kittens that were saved from trees.

Getting your friends to help you move seems like a really good way to save money, but in practice it only saves money if you’re a total cheap-ass, or if you have inhumanly generous friends.

It started when someone at my church offered to help me move. I was really happy about this. He helped me load up the church bus that Friday. I got him a gift card for Mr. Lube, because I knew he was due for an oil change. He tried to politely decline it, but I insisted he take it.

The next day three other people came to load the rest of my stuff into the bus and a van and my car, then move it into my new place. Each of them dedicated a good part of their day and they were ambitious and careful and really helpful.

So after a long day, everyone was hungry. And I’d be a jerk not to buy them food, right? So I did.

But food is a pretty measly thank you for people who have just given up their Saturday to help me, right? So I got them gift cards as well. The gift cards had to be worth the same amount as the one I gave to the first person who helped me.

I wanted to reimburse the gas that the church bus had used, because it’s a big diesel bus and it doesn’t run cheap. So I made a donation to cover that.

In the end, the cost was not too far off from what a mover would charge.

Clothing swaps

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Cost: Free
Success: 5/5

Clothing swaps make perfect economic sense. Let’s say you have a pile of unwanted clothes that you paid about $300 for.  Some are too small, and others make you look kind of funny. Instead of getting rid of them… wouldn’t it be nice to trade them for roughly $300 of clothes that you like better? (Why do all of my posts sound like infomercials??)

That is what makes clothing swaps such an ingenious idea. A bunch of friends or coworkers get together, they bring the clothes they don’t want anymore, and they paw through other peoples’ stuff and take what they like. Everything that’s left over at the end goes to charity.

There was a clothing swap at my work last Thursday. I brought in a bag of my stuff, including a really nice dress that made my arms look like tree trunks (see right, observe head:arm ratio), tops that made me look weirdly disproportional, and other clothes that didn’t quite fit right. There were about 20 of us in different ages and sizes. I circled the room several times and picked about 15 different things from shorts to a trenchcoat that would serve any flasher well.

Most of the stuff was in good shape. Some things had gross body oil stains, so I steered clear of those. It’s a good opportunity to try styles that are a little more adventurous.If it doesn’t work you can just bring it back to the next swap!