Wednesday, December 31, 2014

This Instacart thing is pretty cool

I tried Instacart, since someone gave me a code for free delivery the first time you use it, which I saved for the next time I had a situation that involved not easily being able to leave the house. It does same-day grocery deliver and delivers to 02119, 02118, 02120, 02130, and 02131. It doesn't deliver to 02122, 02124, 02126, or 02121 yet. I couldn't tell if the prices were jacked up from the shelf prices; the store it was delivering from isn't one I usually go into. Still, they were basically decent, I was using a Visa gift card, and getting groceries delivered saved my ass when I was in a bind and was a lot cheaper than it would have been to pay a local teenager. They have one of those pyramid scheme things, so if you click here, you should get $10 off and I get some kind of credit on my next order. If you use it and share the code, it seems like you can get it to continue being free, which is pretty sweet.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Be sure to click on the e-mails from Purina MyPerks

I'm still in my groove of getting a free large bag of cat food every 6-8 weeks or so, which is awesome. I've discovered that the e-mails, which they send out about every week or sometimes more, are worth 100 points for clicking. It doesn't usually show up right away, but it does credit you.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Craigslist score

I got all this stuff for $20 from someone on Craigslist. Nice!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Free soymilk

Dollar Tree on American Legion Highway in Roslindale has Westsoy cartons for $1. Westsoy has a $1 off coupon available here. You do the math.

(Actually, even without the coupon it's a great deal.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: yellow peppers edition

This is a surprisingly easy recipe I picked up from a Middle Eastern friend. Just steam or roast the peppers for a few minutes until soft, add rice or couscous, then bake for a few minutes until the peppers brown a bit and the flavors can mix. I also tossed in some cherry tomatoes that I got from Fair Foods along with the peppers and roasted it all together. Those boxed mixes of rice or couscous with seasonings are often available for very little with coupons; they're pretty overpriced without.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: kale and sweet potato edition

Fair Foods has had a lot of kale recently. This past week they had kale and sweet potatoes. I figured I'd do some experimentation, and hey, it's soup weather, right? First, I cooked it up in the slow cooker with a little water until done. Then I proceeded to make some different soups with stuff I had on hand.

Shown here: kale and sweet potatoes in slow cooker

First up: simmered it with some milk, muenster cheese, white potatoes, salt and pepper. Used immersion blender to puree it about halfway.

Next: simmered it with some red potatoes, dill, soy sausage, onions, salt and pepper

Added kidney beans and black beans, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, garlic, chili seasoning. I cooked it down a bit longer than shown here.

Finally, since I still had some left, I tossed it in with some eggs and cheese and made a frittata for breakfast the next morning. Everything I made was gone quite fast, and I would make it all again. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Getting public assistance is a hazing ritual

Our family receives a small amount of SNAP (food stamps) each month, as we only have one person working right now and it's helpful to make ends meet. We are quite grateful for the program being available to help us and others in our community. As I've talked about before, it's worth it to apply even if you won't get a very large benefit, because you can get tons of discounts on utilities and admission to cultural institutions.

However, every time we have to reapply, I can't help but thinking how ridiculous and complicated the process is, and how much harder it has to be for someone who hasn't worked in accounting in the past like I have. The policies seem like they're aimed at making sure no one gets food stamps. Some things that my family and friends of mine have run into:

1)* If the Department of Transitional Assistance matches your wages against the Department of Revenue, they require you to provide detailed records on any income. No, not just job income, but income that the IRS doesn't consider income. Such as a $150 check for a public-speaking gig related to a hobby on which one spends more than one makes. Or $200 for reselling a no-longer-needed item that happened to be purchased by somewhere that cut a business check. It isn't enough for DTA for you to say "yes, those people paid me $150 once, go ahead and count it as income." They want the check stub. They also want a letter from the "employer" stating that you no longer "work" there. They don't seem to understand that people don't generally have contact information for someone off of craigslist who they met once. Or that the IRS doesn't require people to keep data on hobbies that don't result in a profit.

2) If wages are paid on a per-diem basis, as in, the applicant works whenever there is work and the amount is random, DTA doesn't seem to understand how to average this. Several of the workers think that if you worked one week out of the month, they use that figure for the weekly average. One of them even thought that multiplying it times 4.33 would get the weekly average, and came back telling a family making about $10K a year that they had made $50K per year. DTA also doesn't seem to understand that one wouldn't have paystubs for weeks there was no work. They demand letters from one's employer explaining this. They don't understand that one can look at the year-to-date figures on paystubs and determine whether pay was issued between the two checks. If you have a check from January for $500 with YTD $500, and then one from March for $200 with YTD $700, there are no paystubs missing. But DTA doesn't seem to understand this.

3) They send denial letters instead of sending requests for more information. The applicant then has to call and say that they were denied, at which point they are told that that happens automatically, and it will be reopened once the "missing" documents arrived and are processed. How many people do you think don't realize they should call and complain, don't have the time, don't have the skills, and so forth?

*Before anyone says anything about how people should be keeping records and reporting every cent of income if they want "government benefits," no, that's not how it works. All of you middle-income and upper-income folks are getting "government benefits" in the form of tax credits on your yearly tax returns, and for the most part only need to document and report things that you want to use to increase your refund. Middle-class people claiming the mortgage interest deduction (a government benefit) are not asked to provide proof that a guitar they sold on craigslist was their own used guitar, or that the couple hundred dollars they were paid to display their model train set somewhere did not result in profit over what they spent on the trains over the years. The IRS expects that normal everyday people make transactions with already-taxed income and doesn't get into things. Even when people are audited by the IRS, their standards for record-keeping are quite reasonable, and it is usually sufficient to show a few receipts and operate off the assumption that you had similar expenses, or show a photo of an item as reasonable proof that you purchased it. DTA though requires complete and proper documentation and likes to spend a lot of resources scrutinizing people with limited incomes over tiny amounts of money.

The penalties seem disparate too; the food stamps application has a long page of penalties for providing incorrect information, including jail time and being barred permanently from the program. For tax oversights however, unless they can prove massive amounts of malicious behavior, the penalties are pretty much that you have to pay the taxes you owe. Once again, the results of political pressure to make sure that people living in poverty don't get a single can of food they didn't earn, but considering it completely acceptable for wealthier folks to have routine errors in the thousands of dollars.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Making homemade veggie burgers for a few cents

This is a veggie burger recipe I invented through a little experimentation. The kids love veggie burgers, but they're so expensive, and even with coupons, are rarely cheaper than about 75 cents per patty. The recipe is vegan and uses simple household ingredients.

Pictured: veggie burger with the cheap homemade bread I featured previously and some homemade oven fries. Oh, and fake iced tea that was free with coupons, mayo and barbeque sauce that were free with coupons, plus some produce from the Fair Foods truck. This meal probably cost about a dollar for the whole family and a few guests.

Steel cut oats (I've also used rolled oats, and this works well too)
Black beans

Ketchup, tomato sauce, pasta sauce or barbeque sauce -- whatever you have

I cook the black beans and the oatmeal in the slow cooker, separately. I don't have two slow cookers, but these are things I tend to make large recipes of on a regular basis and keep in the fridge, because they're useful for cheap-and-easy cooking.

The recipe I use for steel cut oats is this one. I do it plain so I have it available for recipes like this, then if anyone wants to add fruit or anything or breakfast, we add it to individual portions and microwave them. FYI, the best prices on steel cut oats are the Trader Joe's brand and the Stop and Shop brand. If you can get a coupon for the ones in the metal can, the cans are pretty fabulous for later storing sewing supplies, crayons, dominoes, etc.

I cook the black beans in the slow cooker as well. I use a recipe similar to this one. You can cook them to about the consistency shown in the recipe, or you can let it go longer until they're more like refried beans; either will work for the veggie burgers.

Once you have your beans and your oatmeal, put about an equal amount of each into a large bowl. Add whatever flavors you like in your veggie burgers. I usually add a few tablespoons of whatever tomato product was on sale (ketchup, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, barbeque sauce, etc.) plus adobo seasoning, or a similar blend of salt, pepper, onion, garlic, etc. The mixture should be firm enough to form into veggie patties. If not, add flour or bread crumbs until it is. If you don't do wheat, I'm sure rolled oats would work. You can also add interesting seasonings or whatever veggies you have around; we've done it with spinach and some jarred Indian spices. 

Next, form the burgers into patties about the size of boxed veggie patties, or bigger or smaller as you like. You can form them in flour or bread crumbs as needed so that they aren't sticky and they form correctly.

Cook the patties either in the oven on a lightly oiled baking sheet, or pan-fry them with a small amount of oil until browned and cooked through. Both methods seem to work equally well. Pan-frying probably gets them a bit more even and takes less time per burger, though if you made more than three or four, they won't all fit in the pan so you don't actually save time. They take under 10 minutes in the pan and usually about 20-30 in the oven. I cook them at 400 or so, depending what else might be in the oven. This time I also tossed in some potatoes from Fair Foods that I sliced up and brushed with oil and salt. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Couponing like a mofo, nine-cent tax refunds, and other things that make you go hmm

Free shampoo, free salad dressing, free barbeque sauce, plus big discounts on a bunch of other stuff.

Anyone know how I managed to get negative tax? Does that happen when the amount of the coupons on taxable items exceeds the amount of the taxable items? This was the case this time, and I can see why the register might make that happen, though it doesn't actually seem correct based on how sales tax works between the store and the state (I used to handle such things for a store in a previous life). Kind of amusing though.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: kale edition

Fair Foods has had a lot of kale recently. Like most of the vegetables that show up on the truck, I like kale when other people make things with it, but am not entirely sure what to do with it that doesn't require buying another $10 worth of ingredients, thereby defeating the purpose of it having been so cheap.

I was quite happy with this "recipe" using the kale. I mixed up one of the boxes of kosher latke mix that I got for free after one of the Jewish holidays (protip: clip coupons for cultural items that show up right before that culture's holiday, check expiration date on coupon, use coupon after the holiday ends and the items go on mega-sale). I added chopped-up kale and some caramelized onions, then baked them on a lightly oiled baking sheet until they looked done. I made a big batch and they disappeared, so I'm going to recommend this. Seems like it would work for most random vegetables that show up.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: Brussels sprouts edition

A little late posting this, but Fair Foods had Brussels sprouts the week of Thanksgiving. Perfect!

Brussels sprouts are one of those things I like when prepared by people who are into cooking, or when they show up at catered work events, but just are awful and taste like dirt when someone who thinks it's the '50s decides to boil them. I hadn't ever tried cooking them myself before, but it was surprisingly easy and I highly recommend it.
I started by slicing them in half. I drizzled (how's that for a pretending-I-know-how-to-cook word?) oil and soy sauce on a baking sheet and set them cut-side down, then drizzled a bit more on top. I baked them at, well, whatever I had the oven at for other things? Maybe 400? For about 20 minutes, periodically picking one up and seeing what the insides looked like. The outsides were a little dried out, so I added about a teaspoon of water, dash more of soy sauce, and microwaved them for about a minute to steam them a little. I also tossed some salt, ginger, and a pinch of sugar on them before microwaving.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Loving these free cat food coupons

Just got my third coupon for a free bag of Purina cat food. They're taking 7-8 weeks to show up, and about the same or a little less to accrue. I'm not doing any of the tasks that actually require writing or anything, since that doesn't seem efficient, but am logging in most every day (usually at the same time I do my searches on Bing rewards) to click on the stuff, plus entering two proof of purchases per month and periodically having friends sign up via my post. Oh, and clicking on their e-mails gets you points as well -- just be sure to use a second address for your various promotions, or else you'll be swamped with spam.