Cheap Thrill$ in Omaha

Frugal Living In The Heartland

Delicious Freezer Goodness

In the never-ending attempt to make my holidays less stressful, I’ve filled my freezers with low-cost ingredients and ready-made meals.  I’m determined to enjoy less work, more fun, and good times with all of us in the next few weeks.

DS#1 has two weeks to spend with us, and I’m going to savor the closeness.  He’s away doing country-serving, freedom-defending kinds of things, and hasn’t been home since he left after last Christmas.  Boy, do we miss him!  And he misses us and everyone else here at home.  I’m looking forward to seeing him and enjoying the Peaceful.  So rather than try to juggle a zillion things unsuccessfully, I’m cutting back on everything, including the mania I like to call “dinnertime.”  What better way to do that than plan it all out well in advance (so it’s a no-brainer later)?

To wit, I have placed in the deep freeze, among other things: the lasagne and twice-baked potatoes previously mentioned; chicken enchiladas; turkey taco soup; pizza burgers; Swedish meatballs; manicotti; Reuben loaf; moussaka; baklava; pies; meatloaf; minestrone kit; corn and bean enchilada kit; banana muffins.  I’ve also prepped a bunch of ingredients: chicken chunks and shreds; plain meatballs; marinated chicken; vegs of all sorts; breads.

And, since it’s Christmastime at Chez CT, we have…..cookies!  I couldn’t go a season without them, of course.  I have not made 800, nor 600 this year.  I have so far created about 100 (several of which may or may not have been eaten already).  I’ve got some more to make.  And the fudge (thanks, Pioneer Woman!) is cooling in the fridge as I write this. So, yes, treats!  Many sugary, buttery, unnecessarily caloric treats.

There will also be Christmas chocolates.  Maybe. Who said that?

A friend recently commented that she couldn’t find time or energy to bulk cook.  What I told her is what I’ve been saying here for years — double up one or two meals during the week, and pop one in the freezer after it cools.  If you find a good deal on a meat, bring it home, Crock it up, and toss that in the freezer.  Toss complementary items into a giant Ziploc bag, and call it a kit — I currently have one made with leftovers of tortillas, corn, black beans, peppers, onions, brown rice and cheese, which all appeared at different times but went into the same kit, waiting to be rolled into enchiladas.  Or, if you really need to get them done and stashed, plan a day for each type of meal — I did a chicken day, a ground meats day, etc.  And there are many cookie days, since I only do a batch at a time.

So, what’s your go-to solution for planning holiday meals?  Do you cook meals for the freezer?  Just buy extra and use it as you normally would?  Do you put additional baked goods away?  Do tell!


To all of you, I wish the Peace that Christmas brings, in the acknowledgement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Immanuel.  Enjoy this time with loved ones, and have a wonderful new year.  

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Free Zoo Admission 12/14/14

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium — Sunday, December 14 will be a Community Free Day.  All guests will receive free Zoo admission on that day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Exhibit buildings close at 5 p.m.

Check out their site for more holiday events.

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Crest 3-D = Don’t, Don’t, Don’t

Last month I visited my dentist for a regular cleaning and checkup. I don’t dread the visits; it’s just another thing to do and another expense.  But it keeps my mouth healthy and monitored.  There was a substitute hygienist that day, who was very informative.

“Do you use Crest 3-D White toothpaste?” she asked (note that she removed her hands from my mouth before asking, so bonus points for that).  Why, yes, I do.  How did you know?

“See this little blue speck here?” she said.  “That’s from the toothpaste.  It’s a piece of plastic. It was under your gum.”  WHAAAT!?

Apparently, hygienists across the country started to notice the plastic specks under the gums of patients.  Patients started reporting cases of inflammation and numbness.  Hygienists spoke out, and it was discovered and widely reported that Crest 3-D White toothpaste (the gel kind), and other Procter & Gamble products, contain little specks of polyethylene!  Yup, the stuff your detergent bottles are made of.

Seriously?  “For product appearance.”  That makes it okay?

Now it’s being reported that P&G says it’s going to phase out the plastic.  By 2016 — let’s not jump on consumer safety too quickly, huh?  (I haven’t found a press release to that effect, however.)  Thank your hygienist next time you’re in for a cleaning.

I’d been using 3-D White since it came out, and with the brightening results I got, I figured it was worth the premium price (on sale with coupon, of course).  I’m a coffee and tea drinker, and my teeth stain; the product did an excellent job for me.  The sub hygienist said the 3-D White gave me “great color,” which is what I was going for.  But I did notice several times in the past few years that my gums would inflame for no apparent reason.  Now I know why.

Hey, my mouth is part of my body, not an inanimate object independent of biological function within a larger organism!  (It’s your lucky day — today is $2 word day.)  With this new information from the sub hygienist, I went home and tossed out the two half-used tubes of 3-D White in our home.  I replaced them with other Crest products from the cupboard, which do not have little beads in them.  Time will tell, of course, if the alternative product provides brightening to my satisfaction.

Even if you have coupons and there’s a blowout clearance sale on these products, I’d advise you to think 3 times before buying or using.

And Shakira, dah-ling, you might want to think, too!


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It’s That Time — Freezer Meals!

This time of year, I start to store away food.  It’s the squirrel in me, I suppose.  I want to be sure family meals don’t become forsaken with the onslaught of draining cold, wet weather and increased evening activities.  Summertime provides so much fresh food, and glorious free time (and daylight), so I feel better eating the fresh stuff when it’s available.  But my pantries and freezers start to fill up in preparation for the coming winter.

There’s no exception this year, even with just the three of us home right now, and my adjusted schedule allowing (requiring) me to be home late afternoons.  It’s getting dark early, and it saps my energies, creative and kinetic.  I’m preparing smaller meal portions, not only individually, but also corporately.  And with our eating fewer and fewer junk stuffs, my way of cooking is presenting more opportunities for freezer meals.

Because I want to significantly reduce my stress level this year, I’m finding lots of ways to be proactive.  Recent grocery specials, and our own fall “hankerin’s” had me making a list of what I could and should make for the freezer.  There were things that needed to be used.  And so it was this week, when I put “1 + 1 + 1 = freezer” goodness to use.  I had only about an hour to devote to the tasks.

Here’s what I made:

  1. Twice-baked potatoes!  I hadn’t made these since last winter, and I was trying to get creative with November’s dinner menu plan.  Potatoes frequently go on sale. The cheese and cream cheese were on sale and in the fridge.  Bam!  The spuds baked while I did other things, then took about 20 minutes to assemble.  Bonus:  There was almost 1/3 cup of filling leftover (how did that happen?!), which made a nice snack.  Higher protein, with the cheese — there’s nothing wrong with potatoes if you only eat them occasionally.
  2. Lasagne!  Yes, carbs.  No, I don’t care. (I’ll serve a big salad and vegs with this.)  I used more ricotta than I normally would have, and no meat (but don’t tell them!).  I didn’t use my trick of freezing cottage cheese to get the same consistency as ricotta, because real ricotta was a deal a few weeks ago, and I got a December expire container.  I added an egg, abundantly on sale.  Cheese, only purchased on sale here at Chez CT, was shredded and in the freezer.  There are always at least three meals’ worth of sauce around, too.  This dish took less than 15 minutes to prepare and toss in the freezer.  How? I don’t precook the noodles (on sale), but instead add water so that they cook in the pan.  No recipe; it’s a no-brainer.
  3. Oven-baked French toast!  Bread on sale, eggs on sale, milk on sale.  Trifecta!  Ten minutes to prepare.  Make a custard with the milk and eggs, add a touch of vanilla and a sprinkling of freshly ground nutmeg, and pour over slices of 100% whole wheat bread (the good stuff), soaking them nicely.  These I made in smaller pans, enough for two or possibly three.  They’ll make nicer breakfasts for the kid who usually wants only a handful of simple carbs and a slug of sugary fruit drink on weekday mornings.  “Sit, nourish, fuel.”

Three good endeavors, with time for cleanup, in my available time.  Not bad!  Into to the upright freezer they went.  There’s still plenty of room, so I’ll be filling more pans and popping them in there as the days go by.

I found a breakfast casserole in the freezer, made by DH a while back.  We had it for brunch today (all being sufficiently sluggish on this chilly fall morn), along with some fresh apple cider we picked up at Small’s Fruit Farm last weekend.  Absolutely delicious!

Tonight we’ll have chili — leftovers will go in the freezer for another family meal, and two lunch portions will go in the fridge for tomorrow.

There are bits and pieces of leftovers in both my freezers, and I’m going to get creative with those this week.  Crock Pot stews and soups are definitely in our future.  Money-saving menus will go on the dinner calendar.

DH and I are eating less, but we have DS#2, The Teenager, with a fluctuating appetite.  After DS#1 left for the Army, it took a while to figure out how much was enough, without being too little or way too much, for our new household.  I think I’ve hit my stride.  And it will all be blown out of the water when #1 visits for the holiday.  (Such a small price to pay!)  Smaller, more plant-based meals are saving me big money.  A report on that is long overdue, I know.


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Savings Catcher Caught Me Something!

It’s no secret that WallyWorld is not my favorite place.  I have occasionally given it another shot, here and there, when I need something I know for sure they have for less.  Still, not on my regular stops lately.

Some recent experiences at Target have run afoul with my sensibilities, though, and I’ve not gone there, either, in a long time.  I did try Cartwheel, which saved me .83.  Woo.

So when all the hubbub about the Walmart Savings Catcher hit the fan, I paid no mind. In a nutshell, you sign up at for Savings Catcher, and the site does local price matching for you!  You receive savings in the form of a WM or Bluebird gift card.

Meh. Not for me, I said. And yet, I found myself at WallyWorld last week, looking for neutral/clear shoe polish and H&B items.  I found some great clearance items, too.  Anyway, at the checkout I learned that the Savings Catcher is something that works after your purchase, and that I could do it when I got home.  Which, for me, is a bonus.  I don’t always have every price match, and if they’re going to do the work, I’ll take them up on it.

I figured there was nothing in my purchases (mostly store brands and clearance) for which price matching savings could be found.  But I signed up through my smartypants phone, scanned in my receipt, and waited.  I’d heard that some folks have waited longer than a week for their savings.  I’d heard that some folks didn’t get the savings they expected.  I expected nothing.

Lo, and behold!  This morning (four days later, and there was a weekend in there) I got an email stating I’d earned 1.93!  I had no idea Menard’s had my deodorant on sale.  Hey, 1.93 is 24% of the price that item!  Yessirree, I will take that savings, thankyouverymuch!

Do I prefer the immediate cash savings of price matching?  You bet!  Why spend it and get reimbursed if I can just not spend it in the first place?  But when I head to WalMart for something, it’s usually because I haven’t had time to PM that particular item, and I need. it. now.  Being  able to scan in the receipt and get a couple bucks in unexpected savings is awesome.

I don’t think Savings Catcher will replace my own due diligence with price matching.  And I’ll still probably go to my favorite grocery store that PMs store brands, vegs and meats.  If you shop at WallyWorld regularly, and even if you PM there, this might be a good practice to catch the deals that you didn’t know were there.

I’m going to wait till I’ve accumulated a larger balance before requesting my gift card.  It won’t add up quickly, I’m sure.

Does anyone have experience using Savings Catcher at the Neighborhood Markets?  Does it work?  Please share your experience.


The Beautiful Pizza Cake

I’ve been steering clear of processed foods lately.  Recently, due to an extended bout with tummy trouble, I took 10 days off from wheat, grains except brown rice, sugar, caffiene (yes, even my beloved coffee) and dairy.  It was totally doable!  What it revealed to me is the effect of those foods on my body.  Not allergies, really, but sensitivities.  Especially the sugar.  Which means very, very limited chocolate from here on out.

I know.  Let’s have a moment of silence.

Okay, then.  I found reference to the Pizza Cake on the Facebook recently. Here’s a link to the recipe on the Pillsbury site.  Omigosh, beautiful!  My son (an adult now, away in the Army) could barely contain himself.  And it’s super simple.  Even if it uses highly processed foods, including wheat, dairy and pork product.

This dish uses the roll pizza dough in a can, prepared pizza/pasta sauce, cheese glorious cheese, and pepperoni.  I’m sure you could use non-can dough (Trader Joe’s has awesome fresh pizza dough in the meat section, in three varieties).  It just wouldn’t be so easy.  You could mix it up with your favorite sauce (maybe even garlic herb), and turkey Italian sausage instead of pepperoni.  The cheese varieties are also interchangeable (we’ve developed an affinity for provolone).

Coupons?  Yup, they’re out there.  I can provide limited links these days, but here’s one for Pillsbury (you have to sign up). And one for The Frugal Find coupon database I use often.  (No affiliate links.)

This dish will definitely make an appearance on my table when Army Man returns for a visit (which will hopefully be soon, but who knows).  Maybe two versions, even.  I can make do, and with a salad (for me, anyway), it’ll be a fine meal.


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Morgan Freeman Provides a Cheap Thrill

I really, really dislike flying.  Especially lately, with airline carry-on policies, tiered boarding order, and ….. well, let’s leave all that negative baggage behind.

Recently, I flew to Birmingham, Alabama to stay with friends and take a day trip to Ft. Benning, Georgia to visit my son.  It’s relatively inexpensive to fly to Birmingham, and my friends (always gracious and generous) offered to drive to the base (2.5 hours away) with me.  It was wonderful to see and hug my son, whom I hadn’t seen since January 4.  He’s awaiting orders now for the next phase of Army life.  Another story.

Our day back in Birmingham included a visit to “What’s on 2nd,” a vintage resale shop. Definitely a Thrill, definitely not Cheap!  Very “collector” prices.  I was so enjoying the old items, until I realized, “Hey, these old items are from my own childhood!”  Ugh.  A wake-up call for sure.  I hope I’ve held up as well as the Raggedy Ann behind the glass case.

My flight out was at ungodly hour, but my awesome friends were up and carted me to the airport in plenty of time, despite the late ending of the Husker game (which they accommodated on their gargantuan TV), and specialty margaritas at “El Barrio”, and locally-brewed beer at “Avondale Brewing Co.”  Bleary-eyed and coffee-less, I made my way to the security checkpoint, and was surprised by something vaguely familiar.

“Ladies and gentlemen! In the interest of air safety, and your own personal safety, please do not leave luggage unattended….”  Same ole same ole TSA announcement.

Except that this voice was Morgan Freeman!

This was one of the most awesome surprises of all my travels ever!  We love Morgan Freeman’s acting and that distinctive voice.  How cool was that?!  Wait.  Was it just too early on a Sunday morning for me to think straight?  Nope!  There he was again.

I must say that made my trip even better.  Another nice Southern hospitality detail to cap off the visit.  If you make it to the Birmingham airport, listen for Mr. Freeman.  It’ll give you a Cheap Thrill, and put a smile on our face, I promise.

(Actually, I was playing with an app and recorded the announcement by coincidence.  I hope to convert the 3gp file to mp3 soon and post it here.  It must be done. You’ll know when you hear it.)

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Freezer Bags Revisited

In a past post, I referenced the America’s Test Kitchen freezer bag comparison from some years ago.  That test provided a then-appropriate recommendation for the best conventionally available freezer bags.

Lo and behold, there is a new freezer bag comparison from Cook’s Illustrated (of the same organization that brings us America’s Test Kitchen)!  The previous recommendation wasn’t even tested.  However, the winner is…..well, I’ll let you view the video, complete with explanations of what they tested and why.  Hint: it’s good for frugal supermarket shoppers!

So now I have a new favorite, which is what I’ve been using for a while, anyway.  The winner is my preferred bag!  It truly performs as the video states; however, a recent package did contain three out of 20 bags that split as I opened them to fill them.  Not cool!  (Not sure what I’m going to do about that yet.)  Sale prices – coupons = deals!  Look for holiday printed bags to go on sale about a month after the holiday, and get them dirt cheap.  My freezer doesn’t care that there are penguins on bags in the middle of summer.

And I will continue to recommend double bagging.  I don’t know about you, but some items in my freezer seem to grow fangs and put little teeny tiny holes in my bags.  Even for non-liquids, this is a death sentence by freezer burn.

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What Happened to Basic Manners?

Warning!  This post contains a vent about the lack of manners in our community.  Read at your own risk.  If you recognize yourself, be aware that others do, too!

Whatever happened to basic manners?  You know, the manners your mom made you “practice” at home, so when you went out in public you didn’t embarrass yourself (or her).  Our recent Father’s Day dinner experience made me realize that they have pretty much been checked at the door in public places.  True story.

DH wanted a movie and steak dinner out for Father’s Day.  We could handle that.  A matinee of a new sci-fi flick at the Majestic, and a visit to Longhorn Steakhouse, would make for a relaxing afternoon and evening, one would think.

The theater has a self-serve drink station, so I waited until the lady occupying the entire large drink station to fill one cup stepped aside.  Another patron took his spot on the right side dispensers, and as I lifted my cup to fill on the left, stepped in front of me.  It took three attempts to finally fill my cup.  And that lady went back, loudly stating what she was doing for some reason.  Point: stepping in front of others, particularly when you see them, particularly when liquids are involved, is impolite and potentially accident-causing.  Point: no one needs to hear another yell out what they are doing; we’re all getting drinks, and we know it.

After the movie, we headed to Longhorn, and were lucky to get there right before the rush.  We were seated in a booth in a quiet corner.  That is, until a large party was seated at several pulled-together tables next to us.  That would have been okay, except for a few very uncomfortable things.  When the server was taking orders, as she got to a child about 7 years old, she loudly yelled her questions to the child,  of course in a sing-song tone.  The server was standing right next to me, and it was very disruptive.  Point: you do not need to raise your voice or speak condescendingly while taking an order, particularly while standing next to another patron.  Oh, it gets better.

While I was eating my salad, the teenage female next to me leaned back, stretched, repeatedly flipped her ponytail, and loudly had a conversation with her mother on the other end of the table about a friend’s schedule later in the week.  Point: the stretch-and-hold pose is never appropriate in a restaurant; no one wants to see your breasts or see your hair flipped around food.  Point: no other patrons need to hear about anyone’s schedule, particularly yelled across a restaurant.  If I can hear it from the next table, you’re too loud.  And oh, it gets even better.

A few minutes later, the teenager and the mother engaged in a loud discussion about “fingernail hygiene.”  Right in front of me.  In a restaurant.  Point: do I really need to say that gross personal hygiene discussions are always inappropriate in a restaurant?  Okay, I had to do it: I glared over, caught the eye of the grandmother across the table, and gestured that I was eating here, people!  They soon stopped that conversation.  I hoped all was now well and good.

Seated at my 1 o’clock was a table of four kids and dad, who all looked nice and polite.  The twin blonde girls were about 12 or 13 years old, and sat facing me.  During the meal, one of them sat crossed-legged, campfire-style, revealing a straight-on view of her underwear under her skirt.  I was glad my teenage son had his back to that table!  To add to the disgust, this child was eating her entree with her fingers and with her mouth open, with food clinging to her face and food falling out.  (Remember the monkey-boy skit on Saturday Night Live?  Just like that!)  Point: tween/teen kids should have been already taught appropriate restaurant behavior.  Point: disgusting table manners may be okay at a campfire, but Longhorn Steakhouse is not a campfire!  Point: young ladies should never cross legs like that with a skirt on, Dad!  Point: if your child has issues, she should sit right next to you, to allow for gentle and quiet instruction during the meal, which any parent would understand.  Point: why weren’t you gently and quietly instructing your daughter instead of sitting there, leaning forward with your elbows on the table watching her? (I guess that was the model.)

It did get better.  I must commend the rest of the staff at Longhorn on 144th.  It was getting crowded, and they were all bustling about providing fast, friendly service.  (I’m not sure, though, why the servers were assigned large groups on opposite ends of the restaurant.)  On one of their busiest evenings, the food was awesome, and service fast.  Usually, the restaurant has a very nice atmosphere, which I don’t mind paying for.  They did the best they could on Father’s Day.

Do people really not remember manners?  Or were they never taught the importance of using them?  Is there nowhere in Omaha to get a reasonably-priced meal in a nice atmosphere?  And by “atmosphere” I mean including the behavior of other patrons.  And by “reasonably-priced” I mean less than $100 for three.

I wonder if it’s just my pleasure to encounter the folks who don’t get out much.  Maybe they get out so much, though, that they consider their behavior acceptable (after all, obviously no one tells them it’s not acceptable).  That’s a sad thought.

I’m not really sure how to address some of these issues, especially without coming across as a self-righteous buttinsky. But there must be a way for us as a community to call attention to these kinds of impolite behaviors, in an appropriate way, to turn society back to civilization.  No, I’m not talking about Victorian standards!  I’m talking about common courtesy, basic manners.  (Not even addressing electronics here.)

Let’s show love of neighbor!  How about that?  A second or two of considering where you are, the fact that others are around other than yourself, and the simplest way to keep everyone comfortable, would really make a difference!  A little less self-centeredness and entitlement, and a little more politeness — what a concept!

What do you think?



New BagNSave/NoFrills Coupon Policy

Here’s what’s on their site as of this morning.  Emphasis mine.

The following guidelines apply when presenting manufacturers’ coupons clipped from newspapers or magazines, received by mail, or obtained legitimately from the internet through our website or that of our partners:
  • The coupon must be legible and have a scannable bar code (UPC) and a remittable manufacturer’s address.
  • Coupons with an expiration date must be used within the stated time frame. Expired coupons will not be accepted.
  • Only one manufacturer coupon per item will be accepted.
  • Coupon values that exceed the price of the item will not be accepted.
  • Digitally duplicated copies of coupons (copy machines, scans, etc.) will not be accepted.
  • We do not accept competitor in-store ad coupons.
The following guidelines apply to internet coupons:
  • Manufacturer coupons that involve any kind of free product will not be accepted, including “buy one, get one free” offers.
  • No coupon that exceeds $5.00 will be accepted.
  • Internet coupons are not eligible for double coupon promotions or any other program that exceeds the actual face value of the coupon.


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