The Fru Gals Answer Your Financial Questions:
Great recipes, sage advice
For 2011, the Fru Gals serve up deliciously inexpensive meals with a free side of financial advice
Can Christmas really be over already?
We spend months squirreling money away and countless hours shopping, decorating and cooking, and then, woosh, the whole thing is over faster than a 10-year-old ripping the wrapping paper off a 400-piece Lego set.
The only parts of the Fru Gals' Christmas that seem to linger are the pine needles stuck in the fringe of our one good rug and the damn bills.
2010 was no different, but somehow we pulled off another memorable Christmas, even though this year money was so tight it squeaked and we can only grocery shop during vampire-safe hours when we are certain not to run into the checkout girls who go to school with our sons and would be all too happy to report on the decline of our debit cards. We are no financial geniuses but every time a reader expresses surprise that neither Fru Gal has yet filed for bankruptcy and/or moved into a tent down by the Merrimack we wonder if maybe others can benefit from the many years we've spent broke.
It is in this spirit that we start a new series:
The Fru Gals Answer Your Financial Questions.
If you think you can find a better place to get financial advice than the food page, by all means go there.
Which grocery store has the longest delay between when I write a check and when they present it to the bank for payment?
We have a friend who used to have this down cold. She might not have been able to balance the checkbook, but she determined with mathematical precision that if her husband got paid on Thursdays, she could write a check to Shaw's on Wednesday evenings after 6, Hannaford when they opened on Wednesday mornings and Market Basket Tuesdays after 4.
These days, it's all electronic and we swear checks bounce before the ink on them is dry.
Instead of gambling with overdraft fees, we suggest checking the sofa and the dryer for change. Scrounge up $3 and you'll be able to buy two bags of frozen tortellini and sauce it with what one clever reader fondly refers to as Cream of Crisper Drawer.
The stores where I shop don't offer free gift boxes any more. Can I reuse boxes from past years to wrap this year's gifts?
Absolutely! Save the boxes from nice stores but be prepared for the disappointment on your loved one's face when she sees a birthday box from Coach or Abercrombie and opens up to find a sweater from Walmart. Remind her that it's the thought that counts.
I keep seeing celebrities with blond hair and roots so dark it has got to be intentional. Is adopting this look a good strategy for stretching out the time between hair appointments?
If your roots are dark, we say go for it. Madonna has been setting the style since even the Fru Gals were young.*
* This is not an acceptable strategy if your roots are gray, though - the only celebrity you'll resemble is Lily Munster.
Heating my home is so expensive. What temperature do the Fru Gals recommend for maximum savings and minimum discomfort?
After much trial and error we have concluded that 60 degrees is the breaking point. Any lower and the pipes will freeze and your kids might have a legitimate claim of abuse. On the plus side you'll be able to unplug the refrigerator because meat will stay fresh right on the counter!
Do the Fru Gals agree that switching over to cloth napkins is better for the environment and cheaper, too?
This one really depends on the size of your family. When you've got families as big and disgusting as ours, the napkin supply needed for each day is daunting. We've got boys who use napkins as hankies and boys who use napkins to wipe their golf shoes and boys who wouldn't put a pair of dirty shorts in the proper place for love or Justin Bieber tickets but will wad up a clean napkin and stuff it right in the hamper. Even a relatively dry meal is good for about a dozen and then comes the washing and the folding so they look spiffy in the napkin basket. A jumbo package of paper napkins is about a buck and a half. You do the math. For the record, the second we get all these kids out the door and there are only two people living in our homes, we are going to go 100 percent cloth. We are pretty sure the 50 napkins we each own will then suffice.
Will my wife appreciate a wood stove in the kitchen?
Oh sure. There is nothing like a nice fire on a cold morning. And don't underestimate the benefit of letting your bride feel like she is Ma Ingalls - working hard to keep her family warm while she cooks the meals and folds the napkins. You men folk will buy the wood and stack it neatly by the kitchen door and she will thank you daily for the opportunity to step outside in her robe and slippers to uncover the wood, wrestle a few logs from the frozen pile, lug them into the kitchen, scavenge a match, fill the house with smoke and then get on with her day. She will love it when the women in her office sniff the air suspiciously when she passes by and wonder out loud about what could be burning. And she will be so grateful you didn't "wimp out" and have a gas line run to the stove. You are so right, switches are for sissies.
If my in-laws send a birthday check for one of my children and I cash it and buy shoes for me, will I go straight to hell?
Straight? No, certainly not straight.
Here is a family meal that gets a five-star Fru Gal rating: Cheap, delicious and 100 percent chickpea free.
Bonus meal: When there are just a few pieces of broken sausage left, chop them up into bits and serve the whole mess over pasta; make sure to pass the Parmesan.
Slow Cooker Sausage and Peppers
2 pounds sweet Italian sausage or hot, if you like to live dangerously
3 medium onions, halved and then sliced into thin wedges
6 green and/or red bell peppers, seeded and sliced thinly into strips
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, more or less to taste
crusty sub rolls for serving
Prick each sausage link once or twice with a fork and cook over medium heat in a heavy covered pan with about a half cup of water until the sausages are no longer pink. Once the water has evaporated, remove the cover, turn the heat down to medium/low and let the sausages brown up a little. Move them around with a pair of tongs so they don't stick to the pot.
Toss the onions, peppers and garlic in the bottom of a 5 quart slow cooker and arrange the sausages on top. Stir together the crushed tomatoes, paste, salt, pepper and spices in a large bowl and pour over the sausages and vegetables. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, until sausages are tender and vegetables have softened. Serve on the rolls and top with lots of sauce.
Makes 8 large subs with leftovers.