A Survey

I’ve been given the go-ahead to replace some of our more battered cookware…and now I don’t know what to buy!  We have the following, in descending order of use:

Lodge Cast Iron 12″ skillet with lid, a gift from Kevin and Jill, our cast iron gurus

Calphalon Contemporary 8 quart stockpot with steamer and pasta inserts

An absolutely indestructible Magnalite 10″ skillet, handed down from my parents

All-Clad 2 qt sauce pan

Martha Stewart 3.5 quart enameled cast iron casserole which, oh hey! has been recalled!

Lodge Cast Iron grill pan

IKEA 5 quart cast iron casserole

We also have – and very rarely use – a square non-stick griddle and an All-Clad 2 burner non-stick griddle.

The items I want to toss and/or replace include:

– 4.5 quart, scratched to hell sauce pan with wooden handles held on by screws so stripped that they can’t be tightened down any longer. When I pour anything out of this pot, I have to rotate my hands in opposite directions to keep it from wobbling. Imagine that with 4 quarts of boiling water or bubbly peach butter!

– 3 quart saucepan that has been similarly abused

– 12″ non-stick skillet that I bought for about $10 at Target at least 5 years ago and is more like ‘stick’ than ‘non-stick’ at this point

So I ask you: what the essentials in your cookware stable? I want to hear your case for specific sizes, brands, and coatings. If you read this site, you probably have a decent idea of what we cook – lots of meat, soups, and the occasional pasta, most of which can be accommodated by what we already have – but also jams, jellies, and tomato sauces that require non-reactive cookware. Canning necessitates at least two saucepans plus the giant pressure cooker. I’m ready to spend the money. I just need you to tell me what to get. So help!

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Madison Eats, part 1

Madison has a lot going for it, that’s for sure. In addition to the zoo, you have the State Capitol, site of massive protests earlier in the year and ongoing protests by what appears to be a group of homeless men who have nothing to do other than yell RE-CALL-WALK-ER as loudly as possible at passers-by. There’s the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin system, complete with 42,000+ students who had not quite returned to campus when we were there.

Sandwiched between these two institutions is State Street, a pedestrian mall, hippie haven, and pretty much the coolest place I could possibly imagine when I was 18. Two Himalayan/Nepali restaurants on one block – and Afghani, South African, and Turkish restaurants a few blocks away. Half a dozen bookstores, including one that formerly had a Canterbury Tales-themed bed and breakfast. A fabulous farmers’ market surrounding the Capitol on Saturday mornings. The fantastically crunchy Community Pharmacy. At least half a dozen little boutiques selling anything a hippie or hipster girl might want.

We were lucky enough to find an airbnb spot right on State Street – inconvenient for parking, but pretty much perfect for everything else – especially eating. I’m realizing as I write this that I have more food memories and photos than I really should put in just one post. Stay tuned for the rest – I promise you won’t have to wait long.

Dinner, day 1: Coopers Tavern

The Coopers Tavern

Photo by Josh Puetz

Excellent beer list, decent food. Our server was new and overly enthusiastic about taking our drink order before we’d even picked up our menus. I really enjoyed the Irish Cobb salad – house-cured corned beef, oven-dried tomatoes, asparagus, hard-boiled egg, Dubliner, and scallion-mustard dressing – but we were disappointed in the beer cheese pretzels, as the “dip” was more like soup. If we lived in Madison, we’d definitely give this place another shot.

Drinks, day 1: Great Dane Pub

Chocolate and Beer

Pretty underwhelming, though I did have a delicious beer and chocolate pairing.

After dinner and drinks, we walked down to Monona Terrace and looked at the water for a while. Good views make for good digestion, I think.

Monona Terrace

Photo by Aine D

Money-Saving Resources

It occurs to me that I should’ve included these links in my last post.

  • Coupons.com: punch in your zip code to find coupons available in your area. If you’re doing any holiday baking, it’s worth clicking over to find coupons for spices, shortening, oil, foil baking pans, etc. Note that you’ll have to install a coupon printer, but that it’s the same software used by lots of other discount sites.
  • Groupon: sign up to receive daily emails about deals in your area.  The deals can be hit or miss – I think I’ve purchased 6 in the last 7 months for the 3 cities I follow (6/690, or .8% purchasing rate) – but the ones we have purchased have been awesome.  More about Groupon later.
  • Retailmenot.com: if you do any shopping online, it’s worth checking for discount codes – if codes are available and stackable, that information should be noted.
  • Amazon Subscribe & Save: Here’s where your comparison shopping pays off.  We made a list of the non-perishables that we use regularly, then compared the per-unit price on Amazon with the stores where we normally shop.  It makes financial sense to buy macaroni and cheese, toilet paper, and olive oil in bulk.  It doesn’t make sense to buy granola.  By ‘subscribing’, you’ll often save an extra couple of bucks, and you can cancel your subscription as soon you receive your order.
  • Target shoppers, if you use your Target credit card, you save 5% on all your purchases.  This is only actually a deal if you pay off your card each month, but if you’re working on (re)building credit like I am, it’s worth keeping in mind.

I’d like to talk about coupons for a moment.

My friend Amber has posted about the Coupon Mom strategy for coupon savings, which involves things like maximizing your savings with store membership programs and planning your shopping around matching days.  Amber’s tried this approach, and while she was able to save money, she also found that in order to really work the program, you end up buying a lot of processed stuff that she – and I – doesn’t really want to eat.

One of my problems with coupons is that they rarely apply to non-processed foods. Why aren’t there coupons for milk? Apples?  I suppose that’s what the weekly circulars are for – tracking the store that has the best price on these staples.  But you know what? I have neither the time nor the energy to drive all over town to save less than a dollar on a half gallon of milk or a pound of apples.  Perhaps I would feel differently if I were feeding a family of five and going through two gallons of milk each week – but then I would have three other people to keep track of, which would cut into my strategic shopping time!

I digress.

I’ve always been a coupon clipper, but since moving to A2, I’ve been much more vigilant about clipping and printing, planning our shopping, etc.  Our favorite grocery store sends out monthly coupons – usually 2-3 for 10-20% off your total purchase – so we use those along with product-specific coupons and in-store discounts to knock $5-20 off of our weekly grocery bills.  They send additional rewards certificates and discounts based on spending – in fact, I just received an email with a 15% off coupon while writing this post.

Shopping at Plum Market isn’t as cheap as going to Kroger or Aldi, both of which are within a mile of our house.  We could probably save a few dollars extra each week if we shopped at Meijer, or if we went to each store to get the best deals.  Which brings me to a central dilemma about food shopping: cost versus quality.

Plum Market’s product selection is comparable to Whole Foods, but their prices are a bit lower.  Plum is a Michigan owned and operated company, and in every aisle you can find products made in state, if not in town.  My shopping basket this last week included organic celery ($1.49/pound), organic honeycrisp apples grown in Michigan, and half-priced day old bread from Zingerman’s ($3 for a large French round).  The apples were among the best we’ve ever had.  Half of the bread will last us upwards of a week, the other half will go in the freezer for another week’s worth of meals.  I had a $10 rewards certificate, a 15% off coupon, and $5 worth of product coupons.  I could get these things for marginally less money elsewhere, but by shopping at Plum, I’m support local business and industry while also buying high quality products for us.

By not running around to chase sales, we build loyalty points at a single store, resulting in those $10 rewards certificates – and in a small but useful relationship with the store itself.  Our impulse buys are restricted to one store, not two or three.  We know the product selection and price range, which also includes knowing when products are cheaper elsewhere – for example, we stock up on Annie’s macaroni and cheese from Amazon Subscribe and Save and on frozen pizzas at Trader Joe’s – rather than buying those items at a higher price at Plum.  We eat really good food at home without breaking the bank – while making responsible shopping and eating choices.  In the long run, those things are more important than a few extra bucks here and there.

I hate shopping for clothes. Oh my lord, do I hate it. But I do love vintage clothes, and $29.99 (Buy it Now!) is a pretty great price for a wool dress and jacket. Honestly, I probably would’ve spent money on this if I could be sure that the jacket would fit across my shoulders – but alas, instead I saved $29.99 plus shipping.

I did, however, spend $13 on a small pizza that I ate all by myself and that I had delivered because our car is in Cleveland at the moment. I also spent $3 on a Christmas present, which is not much to spend in the grand scheme of Christmas presents.

So I didn’t spend $29.99 but I did spend $16.

60’S MOD MAD MEN WOOL SHEATH & CROPPED MINI JACKET – eBay (item 360317045860 end time Nov-13-10 04:46:52 PST)

Saturday Night in the Mission

We were in and out of so many spots in the Mission that I feel like it might be easier to just give you a far-from-exhaustive list. We went back to the Mission later in the trip, so if you don’t see your favorite spot on the list, fear not! We probably visited it and have either forgotten to include it here, or will be talking about it later.

826 Valencia
826 Valencia St (between 19th & Cunningham)
San Francisco, CA 94110-1737
(415) 642-5905

The front is a pirate store, with an entire wall full of mysterious but helpfully labeled drawers containing the sorts of things you might need or might encounter on a pirate ship. There’s a “take a boot, leave a boot” bucket by the door, and a periscope through which you can glimpse the horrific sea monsters that populate the Mission. The back is a renowned literacy center founded by Dave Eggers.

Candy Store Collective
3153 16th St (at Albion)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 863-8143

Chic little boutique with a secret motorcycle room in the back. Shane tried on an UHmazing leather motorcycle jacket with no price tag – always telling – and had to leave it behind when it clocked in at around $450.

Little Otsu
849 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 255-7900

We both love Little Otsu, which is packed full of sweet stationery and other letterpress goodies.

Needles & Pens
3253 16th Street (between Dolores & Spencer)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 255-1534

Heather’s review of Needles & Pens mirrors my experience: I’m glad such a store exists in a place where there is a market for zines and crafty goods, but I didn’t find anything I loved.

Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids
766 Valencia St (between 18th & 19th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 252-9990

I missed this exceedingly cool toy store the last time I was in SF – a nice combination of whimsical and educational toys for kids of all ages. The grown up Paxton Gate is right down the street, though we didn’t stop in.

Princess Animal and Serendipity
803 Valencia St (between 19th & Cunningham)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Princess Animal: (415) 206-1036
Serendipity: (415) 401-8760

Like Little Otsu, Serendipity is full of sweet paper goods – with a BONUS YARN STORE in the back! We happened in as Princess Animal – the yarn store – was having their opening reception, so we had a glass of wine and kids’ snacks – Little Debbie cakes, jelly beans, licorice whips, popcorn – while I perused the yarn and commiserated with the owner about my fear of DPNs. I suspect I would’ve made a knitty friend on the spot if we were SFers. Alas.

Self Edge
714 Valencia St (between 18th & 19th)
San Francisco, CA 94110-1735
(415) 558-0658

If you’re a guy and you’re into high-end Japanese denim, I suspect that Self Edge will be your holy land. Shane falls into both camps – and is long-time Internet friends with the owner, who we hung out with later on our trip. Self Edge’s jeans will make your jeans feel inadequate in price, fashion, and function.

Ti Couz Creperie
3108 16th St (16th & Valencia)
San Francisco, CA 94103-3328
(415) 252-7373

Our last stop in the Mission – a light dinner of crepes and drinks. I had a lovely dinner at Ti Couz in 2008, and was eager to share the experience with Shane. We ordered buckwheat crepes – the ham crepe for me, and the Crepe Gourmande for Shane – with mushroom sauce added to both. Simple and flavorful, with a lush richness added by the mushroom sauce. I had a small bowl of pear cider, and Shane enjoyed the Ti Couz 10. I wasn’t as blown away this time, but maybe I was less hungry? Or maybe we’ve just had so much good food in the years since that Ti Couz didn’t measure up as well as I remembered. Either way, it was a nice dinner.

Some thoughts on casual shirts

1. When did shirt manufacturers or designers decide that women need to wear multiple shirts at all times? If it is warm enough to wear short sleeves, I do not want to have to wear another shirt underneath in order to be modest and/or hide any unsightly bulges. I’d like the option of the second shirt, but not the requirement. Ditto during tank top weather.

2. So since we’ve all decided that wearing multiple shirts is The Thing To Do, I suppose it follows that all shirts must be made of the thinnest material possible while still retaining some degree of opacity.  This results in shirt shoppers picking up, say, a dark purple top, then realizing that her bits and pieces can still be seen through said dark purple top, requiring the second shirt.  Which will also be tissue thin, and may require a third shirt to achieve the desired degree of opacity.

3. I suppose it follows, then, that we should make these shirts long enough to cover bellies (appreciated), but also long enough that they might peek out from under the shirt that will be on top (assuming 2+ shirts in play at any given time).  This means that any number of shirts will be covering the waistband and/or belt of whatever bottoms are worn, resulting in unsightly bulges OR in pants that fall off, if one chooses to omit the belt.

4. With this bewildering series of shirt decisions made, it is no surprise that one might think that tights can be worn in lieu of pants.  One’s fruited bottom is mostly covered by the overly long collection of shirts one is required to wear to reach the desired degree of modest opacity.  And since one will already be plenty warm owing to the plethora of tops, why add to the hot mess with heavy bottoms?

This is the sort of sartorial logic that is Accepted As Truth by contemporary clothing manufacturers advertising to the 18-35 set – while also being deplored by the latter end of the 18-35 set as impractical, expensive, and ridiculous.  Case in point:

don't be this hipster

Don’t be this hipster.  Let’s bring back shirts that have at least a slight chance of flattering any body.  And for god’s sake, tights are not pants.