slightly inconvenient.

A while back, I wrote a long post about convenience foods and how they're not all bad and even what might be called a convenience food varies for some people. I can never tell what sticks when I throw something up here, but this post apparently hit a chord with my sister. I would say that she cooks in a world more inconvenient than mine, based mainly on the fact that she mills her own wheat. That's pretty hardcore. Anyway, she told me that frozen vegetables were a convenience food that she had accepted.

"As opposed to what?"


The conversation blew my mind a little bit. I had never questioned my use of frozen vegetables, mostly because the alternative of eating fresh vegetables all the time was so completely outlandish. But she's right, of course. Anything that you didn't see start out as a raw ingredient is a convenience food. What's neat is that you can set your own scale as to what is acceptable to use and what is not. My sister decided that store-bought flour wasn't worth it, but frozen vegetables are. Me, I'm still okay with flour from the shelves, and I use veggies both frozen and canned. It would be wonderful if I could get fresh ones all the time, no matter the season, but not being filthy stinking rich shouldn't prohibit me from having lasagna in the winter. To paraphrase my mother, I'd like to have the money to eat fresh vegetables all year long, but then I'd probably buy frozen ones and spend the extra money on a jukebox.

Someday, I may invest in my own wheat mill, but I am not there yet. I say "yet," because my cooking life has been gradually becoming more and more inconvenient. I make most things from scratch, assuming store-bought flour and canned vegetables can count in "scratch." There have been a couple of convenience foods that I have been loathe to give up. I knew I should, for all the reasons that I gave up frozen pizza and grocery store bakery bread, namely taste and price (something about nutrition, too, but mostly those other things). But I didn't want to make the switch. Those foods were just so darn convenient.

One of those things was pre-shredded cheese. I feel I should note that if we are being really picky (and we are since we've already brought up the concept of milling your own wheat), cheese itself is a convenience food. We always have a small selection of cheeses in the house, because for whatever reason, I seem to have a lot of recipes in my binder that call for the stuff. Mozzarella and cheddar all the time, and then sometimes Monterey Jack or Colby or Swiss if I can get a good deal. Since 99% of my recipes call for shredded, that's what I would buy. Every once in a while, I would think about getting a block and shred it myself, but that thought made me feel sort of tired inside. I'd had enough experience with fresh grated to know that it makes a huge difference. When you do your own shredding, the cheese melts so nicely, and it bubbles and stretches just like that old Little Caesar's commercial with the baby in the high chair. Oh yeah, and it tastes better, too.

The trouble was that cheese in either form is the same price. And I don't like grating. It reminds me of those bitter mornings in Blowing Rock where I had to set up the salad station at the restaurant, my hands frozen from handling produce that came straight from the walk-in refrigerator. I've been meaning to switch to block cheese for a year or two now, and only recently has my mind finally accepted the change. What happened was that I had to grate a whole 8-ounce block of cheese, and I realized that it just wasn't that bad. I still have half a bag of shredded cheddar left over that I haven't finished yet, but the rest of my supply is all in block form. I got over the inconvenience and discovered that it was worth it, just like I knew it would be, just like it has been every time before.

My other weakness was jarred garlic. Do you know about this stuff? I discovered it when I lived in Winston, back when I was first learning to cook. At that point, I didn't know you could easily buy fresh garlic. The jar was a momentous discovery for me, considering I thought the only other option was the plastic shakers of garlic powder in the spice aisle. The jars are big, inexpensive, and the contents keep FOREVER. All you do is stick a spoon in and you come out with garlic. I never even measured it. If the recipe called for a lot of garlic, I added a heaping spoonful. If it only called for a little bit of garlic, I added a spoonful and then I went back and added another partial spoonful, because I love me some garlic.

One day at the store, I noticed that a little bag containing three bulbs of garlic was not so expensive. Purely out of curiosity, I bought one. Then I forgot about it on purpose for a while. I meant to use it, really I did, but the jar was right at eye-level. So the bulbs hung out in the fridge drawer for a long time. And then one day, I reached for my trusty jar, and I noticed that it was almost empty. It was time to give the fresh stuff a chance.

For those of you who have never minced garlic, let me explain it to you. First, you have to unwrap it, like you do an onion. You do this by smashing the clove with something hard, and the paper comes off. Then there is this thing, the clove, that is roughly the size of the top section of my middle finger. Most recipes want you to mince it, so you have to cut it up into pieces about the size of the freckle on the side of my right wrist. If this is unclear, please consult your own body parts until the next time you see me. While you are mincing, be sure to think about the fact that you can buy a huge jar of the freckle-sized pieces for less than $6 at your local Food Lion. Pretty dang inconvenient. I know they have these things, garlic presses, that do all the tiny cutting work for you. But I don't have one, and I wasn't going to buy one unless I was sure that I was ready to leave the jarred stuff behind.

But I've made my garlic conversion, and I'll tell you how it happened. Last Sunday morning, I woke up with a hankering for cheddar biscuits. I must have had visions of them dancing in my head during the night. My recipe comes from Dolly Parton. I first tasted Dolly's cheddar biscuit at the Dixie Stampede. They sold cookbooks in the gift shop, but I saved my $24.99 in the hopes that the internet could give me the secret. Oh, Internet, I love you so. You tell me Dolly Parton's secrets.

They only problem with the recipe is that it uses a food which I have deemed to be unacceptably convenient: Bisquick. I don't mean to step on any toes here, but I personally think it is idiotic to buy a box that contains a mixture of things that I already have in my kitchen. So I asked the internet to give me a substitute. Once I found that, I scaled it down to just the 2 cups I needed for the biscuits. After eating the whole batch of biscuits in an obscenely short amount of time, I decided that I could probably go ahead and make some baking mix for future cheddar biscuit binging. I made the whole recipe, and then stuck it in a container in the freezer. Now, whenever I want cheddar biscuits, it's exactly as convenient as if I were using Bisquick, yet I get to feel smug because I made my own. I'm feeling smug and eating a cheddar biscuit, so it's a good day.

It's funny how my inconsistency regarding convenience foods is highlighted by this one single recipe. When I first read it, I immediately dismissed the Bisquick. It would never occur to me to buy and use baking mix. Bah! But when it comes time to mix the butter and garlic, I reach for the jar without a thought.

Except that last Sunday morning, the jar was empty. So I cut up a clove from that same sad batch of garlic that I bought months ago. Since it was not actually going into the biscuits but only flavoring the butter, I decided that I didn't have to mince it, only slice it. It was still a little bit inconvenient.

But then the garlic hit the melted butter, and my love affair with jarred garlic was all over. My whole kitchen was overrun with the smell of butter and garlic, just from some butter and one clove of garlic. Garlic + Butter = Flavor Friends Forever. That had never happened with the stuff in the jar. If this was the difference in smell, imagine the taste! I brushed that hot garlicky butter all over the finished cheddar biscuits, took a bite, and it was a whole different biscuit. Before, I'd thought the star of the Stampede biscuit was the cheddar. But now I know that the cheese is just a supporting player, and it's really all about the garlic butter. What's amazing to me is that none of the actual garlic pieces made it onto the biscuits. What I tasted was just the flavor infusion.

If you can't tell, I really like cheddar biscuits. And butter. And garlic. Is anyone else hungry?

My switch to fresh garlic mimicked my other experiences with inconvenient foods. Once I finally go, I can't go back. It's why I am resistant to even trying them sometimes, because I know my life will become slightly more complicated. There's no returning to the carefree days when I could just stick a spoon in a jar and come out with garlic. It's funny how illogical the whole thing is. Laziness is a powerful force. Is this a lesson that could be applied in other areas of my life? Nah.

Since I spend a lot of time here telling you my secrets, I'm going to tell one of Dolly's. Sssh. These delicious secrets take less than twenty minutes from start to finish. Shouldn't you be making them more often?

Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Garlic Cheese Biscuits
From Dolly's Dixie Fixin's
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter

  • 1 garlic clove, minced (or sliced!)

  • 2 c baking mix (see below)

  • 2/3 c milk

  • 2/3 c shredded cheddar cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

  2. In a small bowl combine the butter and garlic; set aside.

  3. In a medium bowl combine the baking mix with the milk and mix just until a soft dough forms. Do NOT over-mix. Add the cheese to the dough and stir to combine. If the dough still seems just a tad dry/sticky, go ahead and add a drop or two more of milk or water

  4. Using a teaspoon, drop the dough onto an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

  5. Remove the biscuits from the oven and lightly brush with the butter-garlic mixture.

  6. Serve warm.

Inconvenient Bisquick
From Allrecipes
  • 9 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup baking powder

  • 1 tablespoon salt

  • 2 cups shortening

  1. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. OR, stick it all into your food processor and pulse until you get the right consistency.

  2. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place or in the freezer for up to 8 months.


secondhand frequency.

While you can get most anything at a yard sale, obviously some things are more common than others.  You are sort of at the mercy of the fates.  I’ve come to like that aspect of it.  It makes everything seem very serendipitous.  If you were looking for something specific in the retail world, you could look it up online or go to a specific store that is likely to carry your desired item.  However, with yard sales, you just sorta have to go from lawn to lawn and see what those people have to offer.  You have no idea if these people even have what you are looking for, much less whether they want to sell it.

Of course, some things are very common.  You may not see them at every sale, but you will probably see them every week.  If you are looking for a very common item, you likely will not have to wait very long to find it, and you can probably even be a little picky in terms of which one you want.  You want baby clothes?  I can get you baby clothes.  You want a baking sheet?  Well, that might take a couple of weeks, but it probably won’t take more than a month to find one.  However, some items are rare.  You might only see one once a year, if that.  And then every once in a while, you come across a once in a lifetime find.

Josh and I have been trying to think of a scale that we could use to describe the commonness of yard sale items, kind of a measure of secondhand frequency.  I mean, we could just use a 1 to 10 scale, but it would be more interesting if we could have items on either end of the scale that would epitomize something really common and something really rare.  We decided on “Christmas tins” as the representative item item on the very common end of the scale.  We see a lot of those, probably because everyone buys them and gives them away.  They’re not quite disposable enough to just chuck in the trash, so they accumulate in your basement until you get sick of them and have a yard sale.

Then we struggled to think of our unusual item.  After all, we wanted something we had seen in our yard sale exploits, otherwise the scale would lack veracity.  It became a matter of figuring out the most unusual thing we’d ever seen.IMG_20101121_201454And then yesterday, we saw it.  And then we bought it.  Because when we see the thing that is representative of all the amazingly unusual things that can be found at yard sales, we feel the need to bring it home.  I guess that’s just the kind of people we are.


for emergencies.

Every year around this time, we have a company meeting about our health benefits. Because every year, the cost of insuring the twenty-odd employees at this little company goes up 15% or so. In previous years, this meant that we would fill our forms to get quotes from other insurers. We'd always end up with Blue Cross again, usually with a slight increase in our copays. This year was different.

We switched from a PPO ("preferred provider organization") to a QHDHP ("qualified high deductible health plan"). I think it's cheaper for our boss, so I assume that we are not paying by the letter. The PPO is basically a discount system. You go to the doctor or you fill a prescription, then you pay the copay. If you have a heart-attack, then there is a smallish deductible, after which you pay 20% of the total cost. In the new plan, doctor visits cost the actual price that the doctor charges, rather than the blanket $15 copay. It's discounted from what you would pay if you had no insurance at all, because the insurance companies work out a deal with the doctors. It's like wholesale. If you rack up enough doctor's visits to meet your deductible, which for me is $1500 a year, then everything for the rest of the year is free. I'm gonna break my arm next year and then get a whole lot of free mammograms.

There's also a health saving account, where you can have money deducted from your paycheck pre-tax. The money in the account, unlike in some flexible spending accounts, rolls over from year to year. And when you spend it to pay for your more-expensive-than-it-was-last-year prescription, it's not taxed then either. Your $1500 pre-tax only cost you about $1000 post-tax. So if you have $1500 or more sitting in your saving account, then you're good for whatever happens.

During the meeting, I felt bad for Mike, the guy who came and explained our new system to us; it was a tough sell. Not that he was selling us anything. Our boss had already signed us all up, and this was what we were getting. But the guy did have to come and tell us how it was gonna be now, and no matter how many pairs of rose-colored glasses he gave us, it all just sounded more expensive. Before, a trip to the emergency room would set us back $150. I've spent more on dinner (plus tip). Now, it might cost the whole of our deductible. Mike said he couldn't argue with that. He added that a trip to the emergency room doesn't actually cost $150, so who is paying the extra $1350?

Our boss, probably feeling a little defensive about his decision to go with this plan, blamed the health care reform bill. No, actually, he specifically blamed the president. He did this twice before Mike cut in and said that the health care bill did nothing about lowering costs. He further said that the bill was not for us. After all, we already have insurance. That's why we were spending our Tuesday morning talking about copays and flexible spending accounts. The bill was for those millions of people who didn't have insurance at all.

I'm not sure if that mitigated anyone's anger, but the topic didn't come up again. I decided that I liked Mike.

Not that there wasn't more politics. I'm glad these meetings only happen once a year, because we have a few outspoken people in the office. Maybe I wouldn't mind so much if their views aligned more with mine. One guy kept asking hypotheticals that bordered on ridiculous. One question started off with "Seeing the direction the current administration is going with regards to taxation," and was followed up by a question about taxing the health savings accounts. Mike responded that it was difficult for him to answer questions regarding legislation that had not even been written yet. I thought about asking what would happen to our health saving accounts in the event of a robot holocaust.

I don't understand why people ask questions like that. I have a hard time believing that he thought he could get an answer, so was it just rhetoric? Was he trying to sound intelligent? Did he assume that most everyone agreed with him, and if they didn't, they quickly would once they heard his brilliant questions? Maybe he was sucking up to those in the office in higher tax brackets.

I don't mind the new health plan. It will be more expensive for me, since I go to the doctor only a couple of times a year. That used to cost me a total of $30, but now will probably be more like $100. In a purely financial sense, that is not in my best interests. But this plan is trying to be a different kind of insurance. It's more like the kind of insurance you have for your car or your house. There is no copay for getting your oil changed or even your brakes fixed. Auto insurance is for when you have an accident. It's not for maintenance, it's for emergencies. In the case of an emergency, this plan is much better. Yeah, they expect you to be able to save up $1500. I don't think that's an unreasonable request for a room full of adults employed in software.

The PPO system just doesn't seem to be very sustainable. If everyone thinks that it actually costs fifteen bucks to go to the doctor, then there is no push from consumers to lower prices. People don't shop around for better prices, they don't care what it actually costs nor who is paying the difference. If health care costs go up overall, it's invisible to us. Mike seems to think that the PPO system is on the way out. I can see why.

Just think - when I'm old I can tell my grandchildren how it used to cost $150 to go to the emergency room!


away down south in dixie.

Josh and I had a weeklong vacation with my brother's family in a mountain cabin in Cosby, Tennessee. Before we went, we talked about the things that we wanted to be sure to do - fishing, white-water rafting, maybe ziplining. Another brother recommended the Dixie Stampede, about an hour away in the glitzy tourist trap that is Pigeon Forge. The full name of the exciting destination is Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede.

How to explain the Stampede? Well, it's dinner theatre. With horses and cows. And sparkles and patriotism. Maybe it's just inexplicable. I'll try again.

Before the show starts, you are invited to sit in the Carriage House, which is a large room with a small raised stage in the middle. Young women in Miss Kitty outfits act as cocktail waitresses, except that everything you can order is virgin. Prohibition is in effect at the Stampede. I had some sort of frozen orange drink, an orange sunrise or something. It was delicious and served to me in a commemorative 2010 Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede plastic cup shaped like a boot. It would have been even better with a little vodka. Or rum, I'm not picky.

A trio of musicians soon took the stage - a guitar player, a fiddler, and a guy with a big double bass. They played old country songs and church hymns, the same songs I used to hear sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford in my daddy's pickup. In between songs, there was good ole boy banter and clean jokes. The audience sang and clapped along. It was odd hearing church music in a secular setting, even if probably 90% of the people in the room grew up singing those songs on Sunday mornings just like I did. But also it was an acknowledgement of a heritage. Whatever you believe, this music is part of the culture of the mountains of east Tennessee.

One thing I like about Dolly Parton: she's true to her roots, if not her hair color.

After the singin', we all filed into the main room to take our seats. The auditorium was shaped sort of like a smallish high school football stadium. It smelled like a barn. In the middle was a big dirt arena, freshly raked. Seating went around on three sides - benches set up behind tables. As we sat down, waiters came around and offered us beverages served in mason jars. I chose the sweet tea, because I figured that Dolly had a good recipe.

I don't like to perpetuate stereotypes about the South, but here's where it might get a little weird for those of y'all that ain't from around here. The waiters were dressed as soldiers from the War of Northern Aggression Civil War. All the servers on our side wore blue, while across the auditorium I saw patrons being served iced tea by boys in gray. I confess myself a little disappointed to not being on the other side, not because I wish the South had won or I have any delusions (or desire) about it rising again. But, well, I'm Southern. Dixie is my home, and these are my people. Me and Dolly, we are true to our roots.

The show starts and proceeds as the food is served. I'm sure they have it all timed out. When the lady in the sequined unitard rides two quarterhorses standing up, you get your soup. And when they do the magic trick with the woman in the barrel, you get your chicken. It's a big meal. When I say you get your chicken, I mean you get the whole bird delivered to your plate. For a chicken, it's smallish, but then again, it's only meant for one person. There's also a stuffed potato skin and a cheddar biscuit, a slice of pork tenderloin and apple turnover for dessert. It's all old fashioned comfort food, and it is mmm-mmm-good eatin'.

Here's the thing - there's no silverware. You'd probably eat the potato, the biscuit, and maybe the turnover with your hands anyway, unless you were on the prim side. The soup comes in a handled bowl for easy sipping. But the chicken sits on your plate just like those whole rotisserie chickens in the deli section at the grocery store. You just have to rip into it and eat it with your hands. It's not too greasy, and they give you a big napkin.

To my surprise, I found that I actively enjoyed eating with my hands. Obviously, the choice to not give your patrons a set of utensils is conscious, and personally, I think it was inspired. Some people seemed a little squeamish about it, but I was all in. I left a chicken skeleton on my plate, picked clean. There was something visceral about it, as if it added a whole new dimension to eating. We taste, we smell, and we feel the texture of the food in our mouths, but we rarely touch it with our fingers, because it's uncouth. Back before hand-washing was invented, that was probably a good idea. I'm not advocating throwing out your silverware, but maybe eating with our hands is something we should do more often, and not just pizza and toast.

The show is sort of like Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, or at least it's like how that Buffalo Bill's show is portrayed in Annie, Get Your Gun. There's some singing and dancing. They bring out a couple of horse-drawn wagons and a small herd of longhorns. A couple of equestrian acrobats do tricks like riding standing up or jumping through a ring of fire. A guy in overalls comes out and tells corny jokes. And there are contests between the North and the South (always the North and the South, never the Union and the Confederacy). These contests consist of racing up and down the field on a horse or having some children from the audience come down and chase chickens across a finish line (one kid picked up his chicken and threw it bodily across the line, which was not allowed). They assume that your hands and mouth are preoccupied with the meal, so you are instructed to cheer for your side by stomping your feet on the wooden floor, thus the name. After each contest, the winning side is awarded a blue or gray little victory flag.

I admit that the entertainment is cheesy. If you sit there and think about how corny the jokes are or how the performers appear to be just riding horses back and forth, you are not going to enjoy yourself. You have to be willing to let yourself get into it. The Dixie Stampede is not sophisticated or thought-provoking or even particularly clever. It's an experience, so you might as well stomp your feet. Just go with it. If you do, you will find to your surprise that you are having fun.

As we progressed through our vittles, it became clear that by the end of the evening, the South was going to have more victory flags. We speculated to ourselves how they were going to end the game. They obviously weren't rigging it for the North, but they could hardly have the South win. Even in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, they know better than to do that.

As it turned out, America won. Yay?

Okay, the whole Civil War theme is weird and insensitive. Even if the war hadn't been fought over the right to keep human beings as property, it was still the bloodiest war in American history. And the Stampede is making light of it, treating it as if it were some kind of cross-town rivalry. I can't defend that. But I can say that it was pretty accurate in terms of my experience growing up just on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains. We had UNC vs. NC State, Pepsi vs. Coke, and North vs. South. We take great pride in being Southern, we love a good rivalry, and it seems like there's a real obvious one right there.

I won't deny that some of that North vs. South stuff is really the Union vs. the Confederacy. It's motivated by hatred and fear of the Other; racism still exists in the South. Growing up here, it was hard to reconcile the image of A Racist, who was Bad, with the actual people that you knew who seemed like good Christian folk, but didn't like black people. They could be your family, friends, or neighbors. They were people who you love and who have never been anything but good, salt-of-the-earth people to you. They would pray for you when someone in your family dies, and they brought you casseroles when you are sick. But then they had got this huge glaring flaw that makes you want to pretend that you're from Montana. Can you still be a good person if you are a racist? Are some failings unredeemable? Is anyone clean enough to decide which ones?

It is getting better. Racism has been almost non-existent in my experience in Raleigh, and even back in my rural hometown, it's improving. Each generation, there's a bit more acceptance and less hate. I hope to see the day when I don't have to defend the South. I know that it doesn't prove anything, but it did my heart good to see North Carolina turn blue in the 2008 election, even if only just barely. There's a black guy in the White House, and we helped! Voting for the other guy doesn't make you a racist, but as long as Obama won, can't we agree that it's a good thing to not look like jerks?

Maybe the Dixie Stampede is trying to reclaim the South's reputation. It's a place, full of people who are neither totally good nor totally evil, just like every other place in the world. And while you are at it, check it out, we have a legitimate culture here that isn't all about being illiterate and bigoted! If that's what they are doing, I wholeheartedly approve of the cause, if not the method. Treating the Civil War like it was a particularly exciting UNC/NC State football game isn't really acknowledging the shame of it.

For me, and I hope most people, Southern pride is not about saving your Confederate money in the belief that it will soon be in circulation again. It's about the good food and the pleasant weather and the friendly people. It's about the soft, lilting accents and the twangy accents and everything in between. It's about the trees and the mountains and the swamps and the plains and the beaches. It's about knowing and loving where you came from and being true to your roots. Everyone from every other place is allowed to love their home without anyone assuming they burn crosses in their spare time. Why not us?

So, do you understand the Dixie Stampede now?


sticker shock.

I received a $50 gift card to Kohls from Josh's mother, who wrote in a postscript that she hoped we had a Kohls down in Raleightown. She further noted that they seemed to be metastasizing where they lived. It was a weird word to use, and of course made me think of Kohls as some kind of cancer. Surely she doesn't think of Kohls that way, or why would she buy a gift card from there?

Anyway, a couple of weeks later, Kohls sent me an advertisement that featured a $10 off your entire purchase card. A little 'rithmetic reveals that I had quickly acquired $60 worth of plastic money redeemable at Kohls. I'm not entirely sure that I've ever bought anything at Kohls before in my life. I don't have anything against the store, but I so rarely buy anything from a regular retail store that the experience of even going inside one has become a little foreign to me.

Is it preachy when I say things like that? I know I go on and on about buying things used, but it's because I'm enthusiastic. Secondhand is not for everyone, but I strongly suspect that more people would take to it if only they knew. So I'm sort of an evangelist.

This story is not about how superior I am compared to you because I shop at Goodwill. It's about what will happen to you if you ever become superior like me.

I went into Kohls without my gift card to scope out how I might want to spend my money. I can't say why I didn't just bring the gift cards with me. Maybe I thought that after years of repressing my inner spendthrift, I would break free in a slobbering and expensive panic if I found myself with a mini shopping spree. First stop: lingerie!

To continue this story, I'm afraid we must talk about panties.

I am in need of some new panties. Just like any other article of clothing, panties wear out and you have to replace them. You can buy panties at Goodwill or yard sales. I've never done it. I have bought a bathing suit at a yard sale, and I once fished a bra out of a dumpster. But when it comes to panties, I'd rather just buy new. I don't think there is anything wrong with the panties you might find at a Goodwill; in fact, they are often new. I think that my squeamishness has more to do with the idea of digging through a box of panties in someone's yard or at a Goodwill. I'd much rather just pick the 6-pack off the shelf and be done with it. I'm just repressed that way.

So! As far as my undergarments were concerned, these gift cards came along just in time. While I was planning on checking out the Christmas decorations and maybe the kitchen section, my real goal was the lingerie department. Once I got there, I came down a severe case of sticker shock. No need to worry about my inner spendthrift.

Did you know that the manufacturer's suggested retail price of a 3-pack of Hanes panties is $18? Are you freaking kidding me? Six dollars for a pair of nice-girl, plain-colored, 100% cotton panties, nothing exotic or sexy at all. I must be out of touch, because $6 is about what I was looking to spend on a 3-pack.

But Hark! Kohls was honoring our nation's veterans by having a sale. I get the impression that they are always have a sale of some kind. Select brands of lingerie were buy one and get the second half off, so that our veterans might stock up while the price was low. So six pairs of Hanes cotton panties is $27. That's $4.50 a pair and still completely outrageous. Let me tell you, the Christmas and kitchen sections were not any better.

And that's what happens when you go to a regular store after buying most of your stuff used for a few years. Your sense of value becomes totally skewed and broken, such that the shiny new stores can't lure you in. Everything in there seems like such a colossal rip-off. Even when you have free money in your hand, you can't bear to spend it at the rates they're charging. This is not specific to Kohls, which I would think is kind of a discount department store, what with the store-wide sale for Arbor Day. However, the fact that everything seems to be on sale (20% off! 30% off! BOGO!) all the time just pisses you off further. If everything is on sale, then they are clearly acknowledging that it was all overpriced in the first place.

It just makes me so mad.

I know that there are ways to shop frugally at traditional retail stores. There were things in the clearance section that were actually reasonable. And there are other stores that seem to be mostly made of the clearance sections of stores like Kohls (e.g. Marshalls, T.J. Maxx). But if Kohls is making enough money to metastasize, then there must be plenty of people who are paying $4.50 to $6 apiece for plain-colored cotton panties. Do they enjoy doing that? Or do they just not know that there are other options, if not at a thrift store then at least at T.J. Maxx? I wouldn't go so far as to just call those people suckers, though I suspect that the CEOs of many retail stores just might.

That's why I go on and on about buying secondhand. I'm not trying to say that I am a smarter shopper or better with money overall. I've just found this way to buy most everything that I need and a crap-ton of neat stuff that I don't need for next to nothing and no one seems to know about it. I want to make sure that you know about it, too. Because you are my friend, and also, if more people stopped paying $6 for panties, then I bet no one would try to charge that much.

*Disclaimer: Aside from coming off as a thrift-store snob here, I probably also sound very ungrateful regarding my gift card. Of course, I don't mean to be that way at all, it's just that I try to be really very open and honest in my writing. Often that trumps being sensitive. Really, I'm pretty insensitive anyway, and while I hope that I will improve in that regard, it's probably wise for anyone who spends any amount of time with me to know that I don't mean any offense. I'm really a lovely person once you get past my personality. Anyway, this disclaimer has gone on long enough, so I'll end it by saying that I very much appreciate the gift and the implied acceptance of me into the family. I also accept it as a challenge to get the absolute most out of my local Kohls that a body can for $50.


sometimes people sing and dance.

High Society
High Society is the musical version of The Philadelphia Story. So instead of Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and James Stewart, you have Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra. Either way, a strong cast. Really, the movies are identical, except for all that singing. It really raises two questions: whether some movies would be better if there were more musical numbers, and whether other musical movies would be better without all the singing.

Sadly enough for High Society, the answer in this case is no and then yes. I've no doubt that there are some movies that would be greatly improved by adding a Cole Porter score. The Philadelphia Story is a love story, even a romantic comedy, but it's also kind of serious, too. Too serious, I think, for a Cole Porter score.

High Society is not a bad movie. The whole cast is great, Grace Kelly is so beautiful you want to slap yourself, the songs are great, and it's got Louis Armstrong. If you have never seen The Philadelphia Story, you might like it very much.

Songs and Dance: All singing, not really any dancing at all. You know, when I was writing this, I was thinking there wasn't much to impress me in terms of the songs, which felt like a betrayal to Cole Porter. But then I started looking for clips, and I remembered that I like this one, and oh, that one was good, too, and don't forget this other one! The thing is, there is a heck of a lot of talent in this picture.

Here is Bing and Frank. This song was added at the last minute, because it finally occurred to someone that they had made a whole movie starring both Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and not once did they sing together. I love the banter they have going on both in the song and in the talking between the lyrics.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: No. I could try, but he would start complaining about five minutes in, saying he'd just rather watch The Philadelphia Story.

Easter Parade
I saw this movie a long time ago. I remembered a scene at the beginning of Fred Astaire dancing in a toy store, and then a scene at the end where everybody was walking down the street singing the titular song. Somehow, in my head, those two bookending numbers became the whole movie to me. As a result, I was not really looking forward to watching it again. Finally, I actually did watch it, and I realized that even musicals have more to them than two songs. This one even had a plot and stuff.

This one has a sort of Pygmalion feel to it, except instead of Henry Higgins teaching Eliza Doolittle to act like a lady, we have Don Hewes (Astaire) teaching Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) to dance. He's trying to get back at Ann Miller, his former dance partner who was really kind of a jerk for the whole movie. It's yet another movie set in the vaudeville era about those crazy vaudevillians. Aside from all the, you know, musical stuff, the script is very good, too. There are some great one-liners and sight gags, and a really funny scene where a French waiter describes a salad. You had to be there.

Songs and Dance: Very good all around. This might be the first movie I've mentioned featuring Ann Miller, but I am a fan. And of course, everyone knows that Fred and Judy can sing and dance. The songs are all by Irving Berlin, including some of the classics: Steppin' Out with my Baby," "A Fella with an Umbrella," and the title song. The lyrics are clever and the melodies are playful. What's not to like?

Here is a clip from Fred and Judy's show. See? It's cute!

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Maybe? I would not call this required viewing in terms of musical theatre education, but I think it's one of the most enjoyable ones I've seen in a while. It's just a solid example of the genre - everyone is mostly happy and nice and sometimes people sing and dance.

There's No Business Like Show Business
It took me a while to figure out why I didn't like this movie very much. It's got talented performers (Ethel Merman, Donald O'Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Ray) and great songs (Irving Berlin again), and yet, I was just so bored by it. I've decided that the problem was with the plot. It feels so tacked on. I realize that complaining about the plot of a musical is missing the point a bit.

Here's how this movie happened: They had a lot of Irving Berlin songs lying around and one Ethel Merman. So they made a movie. The End. I knew that before I watched it, so it's entirely possible that this knowledge colored my perception. It sounds like the wrong way to make a movie, doesn't it? Shouldn't you start with a good story and then go from there?

I don't know how to write a movie. I do know that I didn't care what happened to the characters in this one. That is usually a pretty good indicator that the movie is not well-written.

Songs and Dance: Hey, at least these were good! Donald O'Connor had a really neat sequence where he danced in a garden full of Venus de Milo style sculptures (but not naked and with arms). Then they came to life and danced with him. I picked this number ("Lazy") with Marilyn, Mitzi, and Donald. I could have picked any one of several renditions of "Alexander's Ragtime Band," but I really liked the contrasting styles in this one. Plus, it's just so darn fun.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Not a chance. I don't even really want to see it again.



Some people don't like leftovers. Maybe they like variety or maybe there is a stigma attached to leftovers. I don't know what it is, because I am not one of those people. That's very lucky for me, because I am the chef in a household of two. There are very few recipes out there meant to be made for two people. I could scale larger recipes down, but then I'd have to cook dinner every single night. That's an awful lot of work to feed two measly people.

Josh is not wild about leftovers, unless they're made with chocolate. But he's a very polite and gracious person, so I didn't even know that he didn't much care for leftovers until a week or two ago. He had managed to keep that from me in the couple of years that I've been putting dinners, some fresh and some reheated, in front of him. What's really sweet is that he admitted it was a struggle for him. He has a aversion to them, but he is working through it because he knows that a lot of people don't have any food, much less food made lovingly by a woman in a Tootsie Roll apron. It's comforting to see others struggling to be better people. I'd hate to feel like the only one.

Perhaps my efforts at Good Person-hood have been in vain, because I don't feel all that bad for making him eat leftovers. After all, I eat more of them. Every day for lunch, I'm eating something that I made for dinner earlier in the week. And then I'll eat it again that night. Leftovers just don't bother me that much. Then again, I have the chef's privilege of choosing what to make. When I decide what to make for dinner one night, I've already decided that I would be okay eating that same thing for the next couple of days.

Besides, leftovers are too practical to be ignored. It would be a criminal waste of food to not save dinner for other meals, and it would be a waste of money and time to cook smaller dinners meant to only last one meal. You can feel however you want about leftovers, but as far as I'm concerned, there is no getting around them. You must eat your way through them.

He knows all this. He knew it without me telling him, which is why it took two years for him to let slip that leftovers bug him just a little. His dad does not like them, and I doubt they were a problem at his mom's house, what with the five boys eating up everything. If he's been struggling to get through another night of sloppy joes, it's a surprise to me. He eats reheated dinners without a complaint and usually with a compliment.

I've been thinking, though. Maybe I can't get away from leftovers, but I could rearrange my cooking schedule such that it doesn't seem like the same thing every night. If I cooked Monday and Tuesday, then we could rotate the leftovers Wednesday and Thursday such that we're not eating the same thing two nights in a row. Compromise!

That was my thought last Tuesday night. I had made two dishes of stuffed pasta shells on Monday, and I wasn't going to be able to cook on Wednesday, because he had a show. So I would make another whole meal Tuesday. That way, he wouldn't have to eat the stuffed pasta shells three nights in a row. Tuesday, I made a tuna casserole, green beans with almonds, and baked acorn squash. The thing was, he didn't seem all that excited about the dinner, though I had clearly gone to more effort than usual. Sometimes a one-pot casserole is the whole meal, but we had two, TWO, vegetables. Sure, they were covered in butter and sugar, but they were fresh vegetables. Where was the appreciation? Men, let that be a lesson to you: show your lady a little bit of gratitude, and pretty soon she expects it all the time!

It wasn't until Thursday when I figured it out. The giveaway was that one of the dishes of pasta shells was completely eaten up, despite the fact that I hadn't touched them. He doesn't usually eat lunch at the house, but somehow, pasta shells were disappearing. Wouldn't you know it, the week I try to avoid feeding him leftovers is the week that I try a new recipe that he can't get enough of. He said that they were better than the ones served at the Italian restaurant where he works. Aw, shucks.

So, make these! And then eat them for days!

Stuffed Pasta Shells
The recipe says to use the whole 12 oz box of jumbo shells. However, I must be a generous stuffer, because I only used half of the shells (after cooking all of them). And then I used the other half of the shells in the tuna casserole, because I am a food reuse ninja. I also used a big can of crushed tomatoes, rather than diced or whole.

Sharp-eyed readers will note that I've linked to this recipe site several times recently. It's a very good resource. Some of the recipes are a little exotic, but there are many on there that use common ingredients. Plus, there's just a metric crap-ton of recipes on there.


on the karma payment plan.

I will concede that I was not paying close attention. I had just bought 4 shirts and 1 dress, all name-brand and new, for the grand total of a dollar. Perhaps if I had not just gotten such a great deal, I might have seen the old man's Ford before he backed it into my bumper as I drove through the parking lot. Maybe he had just gotten a good score, too, and he was too excited to check behind him before backing out into a bright red hatchback. If that is the case, then maybe people should wait a few minutes after a particularly good yard sale before operating a motor vehicle.

I heard the crunch and stopped immediately. I got out, trying not to freak out about the possible damage. He did the same, and I saw that he was old and very tiny - 5'6" at the most. I asked if he was okay, though it was inconceivable to me that anyone could have been injured in that low-speed collision.

"Yes, yes, I am fine." He was foreign, maybe from somewhere in Europe. He was somebody's tiny immigrant grandfather. His right back bumper looked terrible. It had a big dent in it, which was streaked with red. My car looked much better - just a few silver lines with no dent at all. I was relieved. I was just about to ask about exchanging insurance information, when-

"I give you a hug now." He came toward me, a giant hulking woman, and we had a brief, awkward hug. It was all very unexpected.

"Okay, bye now!" He said, getting back into his car.


I felt a little strong-armed. Clearly, he was trying to get out of there. I had no intention of reporting the accident. Even if my bumper had ended up looking more like his, I wouldn't have done anything about it. It was sad to see my pretty little Honda Fit get damaged for the first time - the first in what will likely be a long process of changing from a new car into an old car. But that's what happens to cars, at least the cars I own. Just ask my old one.

But the little old man did not know that I wasn't the type to give a crap about a scratch or two. He did know that the accident was his fault. Maybe that's how he gets out of things - a hug and playing up the foreign grandfather bit. The very idea that he thought he was pulling one over on me made me want to be a jerk about it. Look here, old man, you're not fooling anyone! I coulda picked him up, you know, he was so tiny. I coulda just shook him upside-down until his wallet fell out, and then I woulda had his insurance info and his milk money!

But I wasn't a jerk and I didn't pick him up and give him a good shake. I waved goodbye, got into my severely depreciated car, and drove away. I was much more attentive as I headed down the road.

Later, I began to worry. What if this guy took down my tag number and reported it? Was he just trying to get out of paying for my tarnished bumper or was he going to try and run a scam?

I decided that I wasn't going to worry about it. Either scenario - the one where he was trying to avoid paying higher insurance or the one where I got arrested for a hit and run - was conceivable for me. Maybe I should have taken down his tag number or gotten his insurance information or something, just to be safe. That would have been the most prudent. But what I did was fine, too. I did the right thing, not necessarily in terms of protecting myself from non-decent people, but in terms of being a decent person. I'm just hoping that my good behavior will buy me something in the karma department.