New year, new ideas

Stretching your wallet without tightening your belt
By TODD RICHARD  |  January 10, 2007

After weeks of Christmasing, the reality of a New Year has finally set in. I go into 2007 armed with a boatload of new kitchen gear, armed “to the teeth,” in the immortal words from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. These many pots, pans, gadgets, and gizmos will hopefully allow me to do battle with those dreaded Resolutions, the evil forces that attack us when we are weak from post-holiday stress and complacency.

We’ve all seen the surveys and polls. The majority of resolutions pertain to money and health. Spend less, eat better, exercise more — you know all of these by heart, I’m sure. We all break them, every year. We can take a little of the stigma and sting from resolutions by simply calling them good habits. Who doesn’t want to build good habits? Okay, I’m still not convinced myself, but here are some ideas for easy ways to stretch a buck (or twenty) to make your shopping a little more meaningful and your sauces a little richer.

1. Who are the people in your neighborhood?
Support our small Mom and Pop markets. Plain and simple, if we don’t show them some love, they will show us a big “For Lease” sign in the window. Even a quick scan of the smaller market’s shelves can yield excellent values. Did you know there is an endcap at Sun Oriental Market on Congress Street with large bags of exotic dried spices like cardamom pods and star anise? The best part is that they are twice the size, but half the cost of what’s at a big-box grocery. You may have to make special trips to get all the ingredients at the best prices all over town, but it’s winter in Maine, and we all need an excuse to get out of the house a little more often.

2. Look carefully before throwing away.
I’m not that guy who has a special waste bucket for composting. I just hate to see something useful get tossed. The best example of this is the stock bag that lives in my freezer. Whenever the end is cut off a carrot, a potato is peeled, or a stem from spinach or herbs is removed, it goes in a bag in the freezer. When the bag is full, it is seasoned and simmered down, then frozen, so when cold weather pleads for hot soup, I’ve got stock on hand.

Citrus peels are often zested, rather than thrown away. Orange can be used for potpourri or mulling spices, lemon and lime can be added to spice rubs or sour-cream dips. I’ll often put the zests into small jars I’ve pulled out of the recycling.

Simple things like this can save a significant amount of money with very little effort.

3. Don’t fear the frozen food, or Yes I can.
Fresh produce is the best thing in the world, but this is Maine, and it is the winter. Don’t fear the frozen- and canned-food aisles. It’s inexpensive and easy to keep on hand for times when the snow prevents a grocery run or you have three extra people show up for dinner. The latter happens at my house on a regular basis, and we have become pros at stretching a meal to feed the masses.

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