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Thursday, September 18, 2008


Making Do in Hard Times
My mother was born in 1922. She doesn’t remember the stock market crash so she says she doesn’t remember anything like what’s happened to the stock market this week. We’ve joked about liquidating or mutual funds and putting the money in a coffee can in the back yard. I’m sure that our financial advisor will pat me on the hand and tell me to just ride this out. In the meantime we are cutting back wherever we can.

I’ve written before about Amy Dacyczyn’s “Tightwad Gazette,” a newsletter she began in 1976 where homemakers, still mostly women then, could exchange tips on making their money go farther. In 1992 the first compilation of those newsletters was published with two more volumes to follow. Dacyczyn and her readers came up with ways of running households, raising children and saving money that would make our pioneer foremothers proud. Many of their tips I figured out along the way of raising my own four children, largely alone, during the same time as these domestic goddesses.

The only place, besides disposable income, where I feel I have much control over money is at the super market. That’s where I am, as my mother-in-law says, making a penny scream. Dacyczyn has many tips on shopping and cooking for a family and one that’s appeared on our table is what I call Tightwad Casserole, although Dacyczyn calls in “Corn-Broccoli Casserole” in the first volume of the Tightwad compilation and I’d like to share it here in the hopes that others will share with the Neighborhood tips on getting the most out of our dollars.

A word to diabetics: don’t try this at home. This casserole is incredibly cheap and can be thrown together with things in your cupboard and refrigerator, but it’s high in carbs which is why the kiddies may like it. Remember, this is making do, not eating on the South Beach Diet.
This casserole does a wonderful job of absorbing our abundance of mystery-can corn. Yellow squash, zucchini, cauliflower, and a wide variety of other vegetables can be substituted for the broccoli with impressive results. This one-dish supper can be made in about 15 minutes of hands-on time if you are using preshredded cheese and frozen broccoli. If you use fresh broccoli, it should be steamed aldente first.
1 can corn,
1 can creamed corn
1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs,
2/3 cup milk
1 sleeve saltines, crushed
2 tablespoons margarine,
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine first seven ingredients and ¾ cup of saltine crumbs. Pour into 10 ½ inch metal-handled frying pan or large casserole dish. Combine remaining crumbs with margarine and use to top casserole. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes, or until firm.
Serves eight. (Dacyczyn, Tightwad Gazette, 136)

We seldom eat canned corn or canned vegetables period, but I keep a little canned corn—at 69 cents a can— around to make this casserole if we get to the end of the money before the end of the month or I just don’t feel like going to the store. Our allotment of canned vegetables may increase as we struggle to save every penny we can in these uncertain times.

I admit that the corn and the crackers would send a diabetic’s sugars to spike. If you’re healthy and need to feed the family on a small amount of money, this might fit the menu. It’s easy to keep a little bag of frozen broccoli on hand for this casserole, but you can be more creative. Whatever’s in the freezer or refrigerator will do. Today I decided to throw this casserole together, but I wanted to incorporate some of the Autumn harvest so I stopped by Patterson’s Fruit & Vegetable stand in Gig Harbor on the way home. Instead of frozen broccoli I decided to add zucchini and yellow squash and red bell peppers for color.

I cooked the onion and the chopped red pepper well until they began to sugar while I sliced the zucchini and squash and tossed it all in a bowl. I baked the whole thing in my mother’s cast iron chicken fryer which meant it took a little longer than the 40 minutes the recipe calls for. It came closer to 50 minutes.

I hope you have ideas on saving money as we head into Fall and the holidays.


JosephMcG said...

Great post... you got
1. my wallet clapping
2. my tastebuds watering
3. my gout cackling

Three strikes across the plate and I am ???

Pleased to have read your post...

Stephanie Frieze said...

Yes, Joseph, this recipe could be more well tolerated by the younger set, but when your pocket is empty or for once in a while, this basic recipe can stretch food dollars.

Lorraine Hart said...

Though I'm not excited much about food or cooking, I do love the ease (on both moi et budget) of homemade soups. Never the same twice and easily frozen for other days.

I stopped stopping at the cheapo AM/PM type gas stations after I discovered the same trip to W. Seattle was now taking an extra 1/8th of a tank.

Actually unplugging things not in use has made some pennies' difference.

What's been blowing most of the budget lately has been the carousel of "age-appropriate" doctors visits, with a huge spike in our insurance co-pays, especially in the pharmacy. I had to change to a once-a-week bone pill because the co-pay on one Boniva pill is $50.

Here we are singing "Stayin' Alive," while being forced to bail out poor rich folk who gambled and lost.

Sheesh...didn't this country start 'cos folks were tired of carrying rich dead-weight?

I feel SO insulted when I watch that candidate for VP (chosen by the Grand Ol' Pappies) tell people Obama wants to RAISE YOUR TAXES...knowing she's talking to rich folk, while poor folk think it's them and applaud wildly.

While we're at it...I'm insulted that older, sexist men are expecting the blood to leave women's brains and go to their ovaries about this candidate who, to me, is Spiro Agnew with breasts...scarily not qualified.

Phew...I really needed that. Now, back to your regularly scheduled comments of survival.

Stephanie Frieze said...

First, McCain can't be considered an agent of change when he's been in Washington so long. B.) the thought of his running mate, who yesterday put herself on the top of the ticket, possible representing us is frightening. We may be hunking down for the long haul.

Mini markets will bleed your wallet dry in no time. Being as far out as you are, you have few options of things you run short on. We are all going to have to get organized and put our money into large amounts of commodities, namely stocking up on TP and non-perishables at the beginning of each month. I do not foresee prices doing anything but continue to go up so your money is safer in your pantry than in the bank these days.

Kim Thompson said...


First off, the casserole sounds really yummy to me because it's:
lacto ovo vegetarian and it's kid friendly.

You know when I was at KCTS, we had a wonderful couple come in (can't remember the names, darn it) and they talked about "voluntary simplicity." I shall do some research and get this out. Remember, this was 1991, when this stuff wasn't cool AND wasn't necessity for most.

Stephanie Frieze said...

I've read a very good book on Voluntary Simplicity (the name and author escape me at the minute), but it was very inspiring to me. This summer I tried to get rid of things I really haven't used and I'm trying to be mindful of what I bring into the house. Voluntary Simplicity is as much about living softly on the Earth and being mindful of one's spirit as it is about saving money. I think the results of Voluntary Simplicity and Dacyczyn's "frugal zealot" make for a better earth and pocketbook.

M. Sugimura said...

Cecile Andrews?

Mizu Sugimura said...

We save money by falling back on a standard from hubby's country boy in the old country past - natto (fermented soy beans - sold at your local Asian foods store) and rice.

Being from around here couldn't stand the aroma for years. The secret is (as with so many things) how you prepare it. Now find it as attractive as the price! A 3 serving packet can be priced as low as $1.39 on sale at stores like Seattle's Uwajimaya.

Lorraine Hart said...

If we run out of TP...we can always use the mountains of phonebooks that no one needs!

Stephanie Frieze said...

Mizu, if I win the lottery I'm buying an apartment over Uwajimaya's. And of course then I'd have to learn to eat fermented soybeans! At least I could take the elevator down in my slippers to get it. :-)

Maybe the phone books will make good kindling if the lights go out this winter, Lorraine!