Thursday, March 27, 2014

Old Navy's Summer Dresses Rock

Living in Manhattan, I tend to wear t-shirt dresses in the summer months in lieu of shorts. The reason is, I want to look my best without much fuss.

Frankly, I like to dress once (in the morning) and be done with it. Call me lazy, but I don't fancy changing my clothes to suit different activities during a day. In warm weather, a dress is as cool as shorts, but more versatile. You can "dress" a dress up or down with shoes and accessories.

Recently, I took advantage of the sales at Old Navy by buying two dresses at $15 each, the blue and white stripes (on the left) and black and white stripes (like the grey on the right). They are cotton with a bit of spandex -- always a comfortable, breathable fabric -- and I am now waiting for the temperature to heat up so I can wear them. Oh, spring where the heck are you!?!

As you can see, grey and white stripes is a fine choice too. The middle dress also comes in orange, if you prefer a solid color over the playfulness of stripes.

I wear my t-shirt dresses everywhere -- around the house, running errands, at work, out to dinner, to the ballet and theater. They are easy to roll up in a suitcase too. 

And finally, there are no dry cleaning bills! When I arrive home, I simply toss the dresses in a washer and dryer. Ohhh, easy-breezy-fashion ... spoil me! Looking nice doesn't require a lot of time, money or effort. All you really need is a good eye.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

10 Women I'd Like To Meet For Tea

Sarah Jessica Parker on Katie 
Let's play a game: Name 10 women you'd like to meet for tea. I'll go first. (If you are a man, you have to come up with men.)

If any of the ladies on my list call to invite me to tea I will drop whatever I am doing to accept. I'll take a day off from work, fly back from another continent, or sneak out of the hospital (with tubes and medicine attached) so as not to miss my fun chance.

Not only do I admire each name on my list for her life accomplishments, I think each woman is a good person. Smart, savvy and positive, they seem like grounded, lovely women, whose hearts and minds are in the right place. Just the kind of women one would enjoy sharing a laugh, chat and cup of tea with. So in stream of consciousness fashion, here are my choices:

1. Michelle Obama - America is lucky to have her as First Lady. Bright. Straightforward. Warm. She cares about people. Do you think she'd introduce me to Bo and Sunny?

2. Sarah Jessica Parker - As a child, she supported her entire family of seven siblings with her Broadway actor's wages, and today remains a successful actress, producer, clothing and shoe designer. She's a wife, mother of three, on the New York City Ballet board of directors, social activist and down-to-earth person. I like how she loves fashion, always looks great, but doesn't take it too seriously. 

3. Jennifer Lawrence - Talented, focused, witty, a lovable goofball (I think, because she grew up with brothers), real, has a good heart, as well as, a wise head on her young shoulders. (I love Louisvillians and Londoners. It's a long story.)

4. Drew Barrymore - Overcame a less than ideal childhood, but learned from her mistakes and got on a healthy path. She sort of raised herself. Today, she's a successful actress, executive producer, as well as, wife, mother and founder of Flower, an affordable line of cosmetics.
Julianne Moore & family (photo: isubscribe.co.uk.com)
5. Julianne Moore - Actress extraordinaire. From all accounts, intelligent, level-headed and a wonderful person. Without a doubt, she'd be a joy to hang with.

6. Katie Couric - She is a good journalist, that's a given. Moreover you just sense, she's the girlfriend everybody should have - fun, thoughtful and watches your back.

7. Meryl Streep - Inside and outside the film industry, who doesn't love Meryl?  ♥ ♥ She's our Queen of Hearts. The admiration spans several decades and just continues ... 2014 ... going strong.

8. Kathy Lee Gifford - As the hostess of the third hour of the Today Show, she
Jennifer Lawrence (photo: stylebistro.com)
expresses her views on the topical issues of the day. 
She has a positive, yet knowing outlook. When she gives her two cents, I find myself agreeing with her. She understands human nature and talks sense.

9. Kate Middleton and her mother Carole Middleton - Carole started a successful business and raised 3 balanced, happy children; there is never a wrong step in that family. I bet, Carole and Kate are delightful company, together and separately. 

10. Kristin Van Ogtrop  - Real Simple's editor-in-chief. (Full disclosure: I have reported to KVO.) She is nothing like the diva portrayed by Meryl Streep in The Devil Loves Prada, despite being as smart, savvy and successful as that movie's main character. KVO is an inspiring boss and a genuinely nice person. Reading her blog, Adventures In Chaos, inspired me to start mine. She is a brilliant writer sharing her snippets of life as a working mother.

I have a hard time stopping my list at ten women. There are many more -- Shakira and The Chew's Carla Hall are also on it, but now it's your turn.

Who would you like to meet for tea?

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

9 Ways To Save Money At The Supermarket

Photo of a Key Food: SILive.com
As my Mom says when she looks at overpriced food, “Remember, we have to eat everyday.”

Food shopping is a huge expense for the average person, taking a big bite out of a monthly budget. So how can you "get more and spend less?" (That's right Mama, I do pay attention. :) 

Here are 9 ways to lower your grocery bills:

1) Buy unprocessed, real food: meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables (fresh and frozen) and whole grains. Not only will you save money, you will improve your diet. Shop along the sides of the supermarket where the real food is laid out and avoid the middle aisles, where sugary and processed foods tend to be.

2) Don't buy prepared food. With few exceptions, buy food you wash and cut up (and season) yourself. Fruits and vegetables you slice and dice yourself stay fresh longer, and it's not that much trouble. A whole cantaloupe is usually less expensive than slices.

3) Stock up on sales. Before going through the store, look at the weekly circular and circle items you normally buy, when they are priced to draw customers into the store. They are called "loss leaders," meaning items sold below cost.

Here is an example of what I circled recently:
Skarkist solid white tuna, 99 cents/ 5 ounce can
a dozen extra large eggs, $1.69
5 lbs Idaho potatoes, $1.79
3 - 8 oz blocks of cheddar cheese, $5
a bunch of fresh broccoli, 99 cents
plum tomatoes, 79 cents/lb
globe grapes, 99 cents/lb (big and juicy!)
frozen green beans, 16 oz bag – buy 1 get 1 free at a cost of $1.75

Stock up on staples: You might buy $10 worth of cheese, 10 cans of tuna and 4 bags of frozen green beans. They last for a while, and the savings add up. (Months ago I picked up a couple of cans of unsweetened pineapple and pureed pumpkin for 99 cents each. Nice!)

4) Unless you are planning a special dinner and need a certain type of meat, fruit or vegetable, plan your meals around the store's weekly specials. If beef, potatoes and broccoli go on sale, eat that for dinner. Cook pork chops and corn-on-the-cob when they go on sale. Have chicken, asparagus and wild rice the week they go on sale. Also pay attention to manager specials on food. Since new items go on sale weekly, you won't really want for anything, nor deprive yourself of variety. You'll just pay less if you are flexible, take advantage of specials and plan ahead. I see a few tuna melts in my future. (The pineapple might turn wine into sangria, and the pumpkin becomes either soup or a cake.)

5) Slowly change habits: Eliminate foods made with white flour and refined sugars like boxed cereal, pot pies, canned cinnamon rolls, or frozen french fries. Even on sale, they are not the real bargains, nor are they the best food choices. As a special treat, I might buy a frozen pizza or bag of corn chips, but mostly, if I want chocolate chip cookies or french fries (treats I formally bought), I have to make them myself from scratch. The result: you start to streamline your grocery list and eat healthy, saving a few bucks in the process. Grocery shopping for me takes less time too.
Photo: Frank, Jr.

6) Personally, I don't clip coupons, but I'm not opposed to using them. You can save some bucks if you find coupons for items you buy anyway.

7) If your supermarket offers a rewards card, sign up. Get something back for stuff you buy anyway.

8) Buying in bulk isn't always a good idea. Not all food has a long shelf life. Only buy what you will eat, plus a little extra, so you don't have to run back to the store the next day. Eat a variety of fresh food, so you stay healthy and don't get bored.

9) Never overbuy food (or any product) regardless of how low the price goes. Waste is waste, even if you get it cheap. If you have this tendency, scare yourself straight by watching an episode of the most frightening show on television, Hoarders. Seeing how bad it can get will cure you!

Now go back and read the words in bold to remember the 9 tips for reducing your grocery bills ... and yet still coming home with plenty of groceries.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

My Rustic Beef Stew

Photo: msbuenavida here
A hearty beef stew is a popular dish. Definitely, comfort food, which many of us grew up eating, often in winter. I made a pot over the weekend using ingredients I had on hand. It turned out especially delicious! Sooo. I'm sharing the recipe for a purely selfish reason ... so I'll remember how to make it again. I can always come back here to look it up! Here are all the ingredients that went into the pot:

Rustic Beef Stew (my style, um, um!)

Ingredients: 

½ - 2 pounds beef, cut into large cubes (chuck, round, London broil, or whatever is on sale)
A sprinkle of olive oil­
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper (12 turns of the pepper mill)
1 tablespoon flour
1 onion, chopped, big chunks
3 stalks celery, diced
4 carrots, cut into big bite-size pieces
2 parsnips, cut into big pieces
1 teaspoon dried garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
sprinkle of thyme
sprinkle of nutmeg
5 cups water
1 big bay leaf
dash of dried cilantro
A tiny sprinkle red pepper flakes (Adds a kick without the heat. Careful: Too much adds heat.)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (Sprinkle and just eyeball the amount.)
1 small beef, or chicken bouillon cube (Doesn't really matter which flavor.)
1 teaspoon vinegar (I used apple cider, but try different vinegars at different times - or red wine or beer, then pour in 1 cup, i.e. p-a-r-ty!)
3 medium potatoes, cut into big chunks
1 plum tomato, diced 
dried parsley

optional: I had a handful of mushrooms in the refrigerator, so they went in, but don't go to the store for them; you have enough beef and chunks and flavor without mushrooms.

Directions: 

1) Sear the beef with a tiny bit of olive oil in a 6 quart enameled cast iron pot until golden brown. While browning, salt and pepper the beef. Dust the seared meat with flour.
2) Next add the onions, celery, carrots, parsnips and spices as listed. Saute for about 5 minutes.
3) Add the water, bay leaf, cilantro, red pepper flakes, Worcestershire sauce, bouillon cube and vinegar.
4) Bring to a boil and simmer on a low heat for about 2 hours.
5) Cut the potatoes in big chunks and dice the tomato; add to the pot and let simmer on low heat for another hour, or so. Garnish with iron-rich parsley.

Tips: In cooking if you want vegetables to disappear into the sauce, dice them up small. If you want the vegetables to remain spearable-with-a-fork, cut into big pieces. With this stew the only vegetables I dice small are the tomato and celery. (If I want to thicken the stew, I mince a raw potato to cook in it.)

 The cooking time may vary, depending on the cut of beef you use. Cook until the meat is tender. Lean cuts of beef (examples: round, London broil) are cheaper, tougher and require a longer cooking time to break down the tissues, but are very flavorful when tender. Lean is good! 
Click here to learn more about beef cuts.

Needless to say, beef stew is scrumptious on day 1 and excellent as leftovers. Serve with cornbread or hard crusted, whole grain bread.

My next post will address how to reduce your grocery bills, so check back in a couple of days for tips.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Premiers: NBC's Believe & ABC's Resurrection

This week two promising shows premiered on network TV. While the scenarios of each varies, both shows feature children with special gifts as central characters. 

Believe is co-created-written-and-directed by Gravity's Oscar winning director, Alfonso CuaronIn it a little girl, who has paranormal powers, must be watched by a team of protectors to keep her from falling into the clutches of a corrupt millionaire, played by Kyle MacLachlan. MacLachlan's character, the well-connected Mr. Skouras, wants to use the child's powers for his own misguided purposes.

I adore a scene in Believe where the young girl, named Bo, tells a convicted murderer, Tate, who is sent to a hospital to bar her kidnapping, that the reason he has a tear streaming down his cheek is: "You remembered you were good once."  

The chase over the course of a television season should be fun and suspenseful, if the characters are multi-dimensional and worth getting to know. I will give the show a chance.
If you have ever lost a close family member, you may be disturbed and equally drawn in by Resurrection. In the series, an 8 year old boy, named Jacob, appears at his 60 year old parents' door, looking very much like the day he died, 32 years earlier. Most of us can identify with loss, grief and wanting our loved ones back. So it's not an easy episode to watch, but you don't turn the channel.

It looks like Jacob won't be the only person in town to rise from the dead. Previews show other dearly departed arriving. Past events will now have to be re-examined. Jacob's cousin, Maggie, a local doctor, gets involved. Her own mother died in the same accident, trying to save Jacob from drowning, or so everyone believes. Soon long ago secrets begin to unravel, and new mysteries need to be understood. What is happening in the small Midwestern town of Arcadia?

If the creators are clever in responding to the age-old questions about the meaning of life and death, the show will be gripping to watch. Resurrection is co-produced by Plan B Entertainment, Brad Pitt's company. Brad just won an Oscar for co-producing Twelve Years A Slave.

Fantasy and sci-fi genres can be more creative and take more liberties than straight dramas in explaining good and evil. The really genius ones (like HBO's Game of Thrones) do shed light on human nature. 

Let's hope these latest two will be complex and entertaining to watch. It's fantastic the networks are hiring talented people to produce different kinds of shows. Hopefully, it will lead to imaginative and great storytelling.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Selecting The Right Houseplants



Photo: Make The Best Of Things - Lovely green pothos in a beautiful cobalt blue vase.
Plants bring a little bit of nature indoors. They can turn a house (apartment or dorm room) into a home. Reportedly, many varieties purify our air as they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. 

I have green and golden pothos (epipremnum aureum) growning in my apartment. Pothos grow best with a few hours of sun, but are nearly impossible to kill. If not in a sunny room, they still manage to live. I usually water my houseplants once a week, but at times, am a forgetful gardener. So pothos are perfect for me. 

Likewise, I have success with African violets (saintpaulias). Sit the plant in a windowsill with a few hours of sun per day and only water it once a week.

Most of us don't think about the maintenance of plants until we've killed a few of them. Why do I buy a poinsettia every Christmas when I can't seem to cultivate one to last past February? The trick to keeping houseplants alive is to assess your lifestyle and the conditions of your home, then selecting the right plants, which thrive under those conditions. 

Before you bring a plant home, consider these factors:
African violets photo: Wikimedia Commons


1. How much light do you get?
2. How warm, or drafty is your place? Will the plant be close to a heater in winter, or an air conditioner in summer?
3. Do you travel? If so, a catus requires lots of light, but little water. Jade and snake plants are also rugged.
4. How much do you want to fuss? Weigh hardy plants (examples: peace lilies, rubber trees, English ivies) against delicate plants (like orchads, zebra plants, gardenias).
5. And equally important, which plants fit the decor of your home?

Based on my experience, pothos and African violets are low maintenance plants. If you enjoy gardening, you may be more ambitious. Here are other choices from Better Homes And Gardens and This Old House -- the latter listing plants that absorb indoor carcinogens.

Few things are as beautiful as Mother Nature. Indeed, there is a houseplant for every lifestyle and green thumb.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Happy 5th Birthday To THE SAVVY SHOPPER


It's a busy week. Yesterday ... the Academy Awards ... and today THE SAVVY SHOPPER turns five years old.

Over the past year the blog gained more page views, but lost a loyal reader, Ms. Loretta G, who passed away in late June. Time has a way of marching on, but I will always miss Loretta, who was lovely and generous with her support. I am grateful for her comments and emails.

Thanks to all of you for stopping by.

Here's to another year of new topics, practical tips and entertainment. Let's aim for good writing mixed with fun stuff for eyeballs to make your stay worthwhile.

I hope you continue to find some wisdom and humor here.
***** Party smileGift with a bowRed rose*****
Not only is today THE SAVVY SHOPPER's birthday, it's the time of the year when *spring* is around the corner. We will spring forward next Sunday, March 9th, gaining an hour of daylight.

Lent is fast approaching on the Christian calendar. It begins on Ash Wednesday, March 5th, the day after Mardi Gras. Although I am not a religious person, I have a thought. What if in lieu of giving up something, people add something during Lent? Something to make the world a little bit better ... like public service, volunteering for a worthy cause or simply helping a neighbor. 

You can think of it as giving up your time, but don't just give something up. Do something for someone else. Add kindness. Let's try to make a difference in another person's life. I'm not a scholar of theology (far from it, believe me), but isn't that what Jesus did? 

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Favorite Red Carpet Oscar Dresses 2014


Details tomorrow. I'm still watching the show!

March 3, 2014 Update:
1. Cate Blanchett is wearing Armani Prive; 2. Amy Adams is in Gucci Premiere; 3. Naomi Watts is wearing Calvin Klein Collection; 4. Charlize Theron is in Dior Haute Couture; Jessica Biel is in Chanel; and Sandra Bullock is wearing Alexander McQueen.

The color trend at the Academy Awards was darks and neutrals. No outlandish attire this year, the look was polished and old Hollywood glamour. As it should be, elegance ruled the night. What's the point of hiring a stylist and having your choice of haunte couture, only to look ridiculous? Class is the name of the game.
Angelina Jolie in Ellie Saaab, Brad Pitt in Tom Ford. Who's looking at him?
Angelina is her usual, beautiful self. This is something like what I would wear, if I attended award shows ... ladylike sleeves to keep me warm, as well as, the glitter. Despite not showing a lot of skin, she still looks stunning ... and comfortable.

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Making Homemake Yogurt

Photo: My Healthy Green Family (here)
Years ago while still living at home with my parents, I bought a yogurt machine. I still have it and recently decided to make homemade yogurt again. Supermarket yogurt keeps shrinking. I need a full cup of yogurt to feel satisfied. So, I will go back to making it myself! 

You don't need a machine to make fresh yogurt. All a yogurt machine does is control the temperature like an incubator. If you don't have a yogurt machine, you can pour treated milk into a pot or jar, mix in plain yogurt (as a starter), wrap towels around  it, and put the batch inside your oven, using the pilot light to keep it warm until it turns into yogurt about 12 hours later. 110-112 degrees F is the desired temperature.

Since I have a yogurt machine, I use it. I replaced the 6 ounce (grrr!!!), milk cups with 8 ounce, Mason jars. Not only do they hold more yogurt, they travel well. I love the metal, screw-on lids. Very secure ... and I feel a bit like a city dairy farmer pulling out my canning jars. I'm a serious yogurt maker, mister! 

I like to use powder milk to make yogurt because it produces a good consistency. Here's how:
My yogurt machine

Homemade Yogurt - one quart

Ingredients:
4½ cups water
2/3 cups dry powder milk (that's a little extra for a thicker yogurt)
2 - 3 tablespoons of plain yogurt with live active cultures

You can buy plain supermarket yogurt for your first batch, then remember to save a few tablespoons of the last of the yogurt to make future batches.

Directions: 
1. Boil the water to kill any bad bacteria.
2. Let the water cool to about 110 degrees F, so you don't kill the good yogurt bacteria.
3. Stir the dry powder milk (equals 5 tablespoons per cup + a little extra) into the water until it dissolves.
Photo: Lousia Enright (here)
4. Next whisk in the plain yogurt.
5. Pour into a large jar or individual containers, or leave in the pot. My 8 ounce Mason jars go into my yogurt machine with their medal lids, but without the screw-on cylinders.
6. Leave for 12 hours.

If you use liquid milk, it's super easy too. Just heat one quart of milk and let cool. Whole milk and 2% milk make a thicker yogurt. Skim milk yields a thinner yogurt. Just like when using dry milk, add the spoons of plain yogurt to the liquid milk. Pour into container(s). Let the batch set for 12 hours. Voilà.

Time makes a thicker yogurt also. The longer the batch sits, the thicker the yogurt. But, the longer the yogurt sits, the more sour it becomes. So to keep the taste mild, I pop the yogurt into the refrigerator after 12 hours. I prefer a thinner and milder flavor to a thicker and sharper taste. Some manufacturers add gelatin to thicken the yogurt, but I like to keep yogurt-making simple.

Greek yogurt is yogurt strained of some of its liquid (a/k/a whey). Drain more whey to get yogurt cheese.

Enjoy the creamy freshness!

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