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The Frugal Buffet

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

Part 38: On Tomatoes/On Tuna Salad Sandwiches
thefrugalbuffet
I often wonder how terrible life must have been before the Columbian Exchange, when only a small number of people in the world were able to enjoy the wonderfulness of tomatoes.  I have also long pitied those poor English people who used to think that tomatoes were poisonous.

One thing that I noticed a long time ago about tomatoes is that there is a huge price range among tomatoes, but a relatively small range of quality. The more expensive tomatoes, to me, are no better than the cheaper ones. On the contrary, I often find the cheapest ones to be better. They tend to have harder skin, which I like, both because of the texture and because of the fact that it means the tomatoes last longer. I bought some 79-cents-per-pound tomatoes about a week ago and ate one today that was quite delicious. Why people would ever buy tomatoes for $5 a pound is beyond me. I usually only buy them when they drop below a dollar a pound, although when I really want tomatoes, I am willing to spend $1.99 a pound, or sometimes a little more.

When it comes to tomatoes I believe that size matters very much. An ideal tomato, for me, is just big enough for one sandwich. When I use half of a tomato, one of two bad things happens. Either a) the other half goes bad before I can eat it, or b) it gets soggy before I can eat it and it is not nearly as good as the first half. So I like getting relatively small tomatoes when I can. Not too small. Bigger than the cherry and grape tomatoes. But on the smaller side. Cherry and grape tomatoes do have other uses that are nice, but the thing I use tomatoes for most frequently is sandwiches, and when I use cherry or grape tomatoes on a sandwich, it involves too much work, and then they end up shooting juice out at me as I bite into them. When I cook with tomatoes, I usually use canned tomatoes.

The tomato that I just ate was the perfect size. I ate it on a tuna salad sandwich, and when the tomato was sliced, it fit into the sandwich perfectly.

I love tomatoes on tuna salad sandwiches.

I have some other strong opinions about tuna salad sandwiches, will I will share now.

For one thing, I like the tuna to be either on good, fresh bread (or bagels), or, if it is not on good, fresh bread, I like for it to be on whole grain supermarket bread. Wonder Bread doesn't go very well with tuna.

For another thing, I want the bread to be toasted. This is definitely not an opinion of mine when it comes to other kinds of sandwiches (much to the surprise of those people who say, "toasted?" expecting a "yes" answer when they are cooking a burger or something for me, and I say, "No thanks.") There's something about toasted bread that I find really complements the taste of tuna salad.

Another opinion of mine regarding tuna salad is that it shouldn't be too complicated. People are always putting onions and relish and spices and things like that in it. I'm not saying that these additions don't taste good (they usually do), but only that they don't taste nearly as good as tuna, mayo, and celery (and maybe a little lemon if I am in the mood for it) alone. I also am of the opinion that melted cheese, though delicious, takes away from the overall tuna-licious taste. Another issue for me with the melted cheese is that the way people usually do it involves heating the tuna salad as well, and I like my tuna on the cooler side.

Now, take this simple tuna salad, put it on some nice toasted bread, with a lot of tomato (one whole tomato that is not too big and not too expensive), and you have yourself a good tuna sandwich.

Something else that occurred to me earlier this year regarding tuna salad is that I should make it in bulk. There are three reasons for this. For one thing, it means less work. For another, it means that after I do the work, I can have the tuna salad whenever I want it. Lastly, it means that the tuna is refrigerated instead of being room temperature (and I prefer my tuna cooled).

Well, I believe that is it for today, my friends. I hope you have a good sandwich.

Part 37: The Triumphant Return of the Frugal Buffeteer!
thefrugalbuffet
Hello, everyone. I have returned. Where have I been, you may ask? Where haven't I been, I say! I've been all over this grand old city from the Bronx to Coney Island, and I've been having a swell time of it. Unfortunately, in my old age, I have forgotten to keep you, my loyal readers, informed of my grocery-shopping adventures. 

I have been up to many things over the past 6 months or so. For one thing, I have been working on music. I have been playing music at the Jalopy Theatre every couple of weeks, and focusing my sets on music by people whose birthday it is on that particular day. It is a very rewarding endeavor, and I have enjoyed it. I have also been recording a lot of music, and am having a CD release party for my 10th album of original music, "Let's Get Friendly" on Saturday, February 20th at the aforementioned Jalopy Theatre. Y'all should come. I have also learned that having a girlfriend somehow leads to less time spent grocery shopping. But I have certainly had many exciting grocery store adventures nonetheless. Unfortunately, however, many of them have probably been lost to the ages. Maybe that is for the best. Anyway, I decided that this particular blog entry would follow a different pattern than others. Rather than focusing on grocery stores, I am going to discuss a few new restaurants that have opened in my neighborhood, both of which I am particularly fond of.

First and foremost, I would like to tell everyone about my new favorite bar: The Keg and Lantern. Located on Nassau Ave., btwn Manhattan and Leonard, it is a very happy, uncrowded, inexpensive place with lots of excellent specials every night of the week (And when I say specials, I mean the kind of specials that cost less than the regular things on the menu, as opposed to the kind that cost more. One way to be frugal when restauranting about town is to stick to the kind of place with specials that fall into the former category).

For me and my roommates, The Keg and Lantern's most exciting special is the 25 cent chicken wings on Sundays and Mondays. This is what brings us there at least once a week. And when we go for the 25 cent wings, we also enjoy the 2 dollar Buds, Bud Lights, and PBR (The PBR is $2 every day, but the Bud and Bud Light are only $2 on Sunday and Monday). One thing we have learned is that if you order a regular bud, it generally comes in a bottle, but if you order a Bud Light, it usually comes in a HUGE mug. We have all switched to Bud Light at this point, except for Gergely, who maintains that Bud Light is only Bud with water added, and that a big mug of bud light ends up having the same amount of alcohol and beer that a bottle of regular budweiser has. I don't know if this is true or not, but boy do I really enjoy drinking from those big mugs.

Another good thing is that the waitress more often than not gives us at least one round on the house.

The wings taste different every time I go, and range in quality from, "That's pretty good. It is fun to eat. It is a wing. Plus, it only 25 cents!" to "Wow! These wings are fantastic! I haven't had wings this good in a long time. Plus, they are only 25 cents!" 

On three occasions they ran out of wings before we got there, which was really disappointing, especially the first time. But each time, we stuck around and enjoyed the $2 beer, and ordered other things from the menu. The burgers and fries and reubens and chicken pot pie and dessert are all pretty good. But DO NOT order the cajun fried chicken. It is not good, it is expensive, and the portions are small. If you are thinking about getting it, I suggest that you just order some french fries instead (which aren't on the menu by themselves, but they can be had at a fraction of the price of the cajun fried chicken).

Other specials they have at the Keg and Lantern include freshly made 50-cent pierogies on Saturday nights, $4 Irish Car Bombs on Friday nights, and 10-CENT PBR ON FRIDAY'S from 7-9. On Wednesday night, all top shelf liquor is $6. Thursday is Ladies' Night (Women's drinks are half-priced).

Here is The Keg and Lantern's facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/#/group.php?gid=146265132536&ref=ts

And here is their (fancy) website:

http://www.kegandlantern.com/

I would also like to stress that it is never crowded. It is a great place. I could go on, but I will stop now, and move onto the other exciting new addition to my neighborhood.

One block from my apartment, Vinnie's Pizzeria (which is excellent, and has, for a while, had only one location on Bedford Ave. a few blocks from the L stop), opened a new location about a month ago. I can't stress highly enough how exciting it is to have good pizza only a block away. I used to have to walk for 15 minutes to get great pizza. Now it is right here. And now I have no reason to ever get pizza anywhere else again. Victory!

For the first week or two that they were around, they had a great lunch special that is no longer there. If I bought a $4 specialty slice (they have some pretty exciting specialty slices), I got a free plain slice. This special had me eating pizza for lunch a little too much, so it is probably for the best that it was only temporary.

Here is Vinnie's website (they don't have much of a website yet):

http://vinniesbrooklyn.com/

And here is their facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=vinnie%27s&init=quick#/pages/Williamsburg-NY/Vinnies-Pizzeria/116528981396?ref=search&sid=4201409.506776303..1

This new location has also added some evidence to a long-running theory of mine. I believe that, in general, pizza places that are located near subway stops have better slices than whole pies, but that pizza places that are located far from subway stops have better whole pies than slices. The original Vinnie's location, which was near a subway stop, had better slices than whole pizzas, and the one by my house seems to have better whole pies than slices. I think I can now safely say, "Case closed."

Part 36: 50-cent Avocados!
thefrugalbuffet
They currently have 50-cent avocados at Young Fruit, on Nassau Ave., just West of McGolrick Park, and they are ripe. They are a little on the small side, but at 50 cents per avocado, they remain an excellent deal.

Part 35: An Episode at an Associated Supermarket
thefrugalbuffet
I was at the Associated Supermarket on Manhattan Ave. today, and a strange thing happened to me. I was looking at the milk, and a fairly elderly woman who was wearing a noticeable amount of makeup asked the question, "Is today the 27th or the 28th?" It was unclear if she was talking to me or herself, but she was sort of facing my direction, and, because I happened to know the answer, I kindly responded, "The 28th." She thanked me, as is the custom, but then, instead of leaving it at that, she started trying to explain to me why she wanted to know.

"It's because of the expiration date," she said. And with that, she began counting days on her fingers, which was all fine and good, but she seemed to be counting them at me, as though I was as interested in the information as she was. And as she calculated, she asked questions about what day of the week each day was going to fall on. All the while, it was unclear whether she was talking to herself or to me.

"No, you don't understand," she continued. "I don't drink very much milk, because I only put it in my coffee, so I only have it in the morning," and then her words sort of trailed off, and I was wondering she was expecting me to continue listening. It was a very awkward situation. Eventually, she sort of turned to the side, and I took this opportunity to casually walk away with the quart of skim milk I had just grabbed for myself.

It was a short grocery shopping trip. I only got the skim milk, two 6-packs of beer, and about two pounds of ground beef.

I have said it before, but I'll say it again: Associated is the grocery store to go to for ground beef in this neighborhood. They always have it available for 99 cents a pound. You're usually lucky to find it at 3 times that price at the other neighborhood grocery stores.

Before it occurred to me that I needed milk, it was looking to be a pretty manly checkout. I doubt I could even think of a manlier checkout than two six-packs and some raw ground beef. But the skim milk definitely balanced it out. I think I may start assigning genders to all foods. I will start with Le Ground Beef and Le Six Pack in the masculine category, and La Skim Milk in the feminine category.

Part 34: Unfinished Business
thefrugalbuffet
At the end of last week, I went back to Met Foods to clean them out of Tuna. They only had 11 cans left of 99-cent solid white albacore in water. I bought all of them, and left them with just a huge amount of solid white albacore in oil. They didn't know what him them. I also bought a few 2-liter bottles of lime flavored seltzer water for a dollar each. It was a good day.

Part 33: Topics Related and Unrelated to Tuna
thefrugalbuffet
There are many things to be said. Let me begin with the most important. Solid White Albacore was on sale this week at Met Foods for 99 cents a can. It has been an unusually long time since tuna last went on sale for my buying price, and I was beginning to wonder if the days of 99 solid white albacore had gone away forever, but they seem to be back and hopefully they are here to stay. Naturally, I picked up a bunch of tuna. 26 cans, I believe (although it might have been 27). I regret not buying more, and I still may go get some more before the sale ends tomorrow. I also got a two-liter bottle of seltzer water for a dollar.

Another recent purchase I made that I am very happy with, but that I believe I neglected to mention was a 3-pound jar of honey for $6. It was Gunter's Pure Honey Wildflower USA Grade A. I am no expert on honey, but I do find that I am enjoying this honey more than the honey I usually get, and at that price it makes me extra happy. It is going quite well with my Cheerios.

About two years ago, signs appeared in the window of a vacant shop that said "coming soon: KFC and Taco Bell." I became a bit excited about this, because I haven't eaten Kentucky Fried Chicken in more than 10 years, and I remember that during my childhood I thought of it as one of the finest delicacies imagineable (though I am pretty sure I have experienced it fewer than five times in my entire life). When I was a Junior in high school, I became a vegetarian for two and half years on a whim, and I know that I have not had KFC since I stopped being a vegetarian, which means that it definitely has been at least 9 years, and I am pretty sure that it has been significantly longer. However, if I had a KFC in my neighborhood, I have a feeling that I would, at least once, go there and eat their food (I've never lived near a KFC in my life). So I naturally became excited. But then for the next two years or so, the little paper sign wore away and fell down, and the store window looked less and less like it would ever be home to a KFC. But then (Then!), about two weeks ago, I went shopping at Key Foods, and there it was: a Big, Red Kentucky Fried Chicken sign. Not a "coming soon" sign, or an advertisement, but the very sort of sign that a KFC has on its roof, right there on the roof next to Key Foods. I immediately texted Rob, who didn't believe me, but I ran home and insisted that I was correct until he did. And today I was at Key Foods again, and the walls have also been painted KFC colors, and it appears that there will be a KFC in Greenpoint very, very soon. What a delight. I wonder if it will be anything like I remember thinking it was when I was a child. Most likely, it will not be. And even if it is, I doubt I will eat there more than once or maybe twice a year. But I am still very excited about it.

At Key Foods today, I got a 6-pack of Saratoga Lager for $5.99 (one of the better beers that can be obtained that cheaply in Greenpoint grocery stores), a large cantalope for 88 cents, a loaf of bread, and some oysters.

The thing that bothers me the most about Key Food is the frequency with which they play that "The only difference that I see is you are exactly the same as you used to be" song by The Wallflowers. I have heard that song no fewer than 5 times in that store, and probably more like 10 times. Why is it always playing there? It was an annoying song when it came out 10 or 15 years ago (significantly more annoying than that "One Headlight" song, in my opinion). Why is it played so constantly in this one particular place? What is going on here? I haven't noticed any other songs being played that frequently. Though maybe I just notice this one because it annoys me, and it is really part of a single mix CD that they're always playing and the other songs just keep getting repeated without me noticing. I don't really know. All I know is that it has been stuck in head since I left, and it is probably stuck in your head now that I have mentioned it, and I apologize.

My friend Nate, who I believe is one of the more regular readers of this blog, asked me recently if, during my trips to Food Bazaar, I had taken a look at the amazing fish selection and the Mexican Coke (which is like Kosher Coke, but available year-round at Grocery Stores in Latino communities). The answer to both of these questions is yes, but I have not yet made any purchases that would reflect this. The fish selection is huge, exciting and cheap, and I definitely will take advantage of it at some point. However, in general, I try to make my grocery shopping as cheap as possible. And buying fresh fish for $2.99 a pound is a lot more expensive than buying canned mackarel for $1.25 a pound. So that will have to wait for special occasions.* And, although I approve of the availability of Mexican Coke, I won't let myself take advantage of it. Long ago, I stopped drinking Coca-Cola on a regular basis, because it is bad for one to do so. Kosher Coke gives me an excuse to drink Coke, because it only comes around once a year, and I can view Kosher Coke time as a special occasion. If I were to start drinking Mexican Coke, I could very easily find myself slipping back into a routine of drinking two liters of soda a day, which is not a good thing to do for a number of different reasons.

*You may observe that 99 cents a can for tuna adds up to about about three dollars a pound anyway, but tuna is such a staple that I don't let that get to me. Besides, if I want to eat some tuna, one can is plenty to satiate me. However, if I were to cook fresh fish, I'd probably end up eating a whole pound. So if you look at it that way, I end up saving money on the tuna. Besides, tuna lasts forever, and I have always gotten immense pleasure out of buying things in bulk.

Part 32: Back to the Food Bazaar
thefrugalbuffet
I went to the Food Bazaar again today. I bought three bunches of celery for 99 cents each, 3 bags of carrots for 40 cents each, a three-pound box of Great American burger patties for 6 dollars, three big cans of coconut water for 99 cents each, a couple two-pound bags of popcorn kernels for $1.89 each, two 8-oz cans of oysters for $2.89 each, and my personal favorite victory of the day: four 1-pound cans of mackerel in brine for $1.25 each. That is the lowest price at which I have yet found canned mackerel. It was a good day of grocery shopping.

Part 31: Cheerios and a Valuable Revelation About Coffee Filters
thefrugalbuffet
There is currently a buy-one-get-one-free sale on the biggest size box of Cheerios at Key Foods. So I got two boxes along with a loaf of bread, some smoked oysters and some boneless turkey meat. When I was checking out, the cashier rang me up and gave me a price that was over $20. But then I handed her my Key Food Card and the price dropped down to about $15. The cashier said "Oh! That's very good!" And I said "Yeah! That is great!" pretending that it was news to me as well that my Club Card would save me $5.19. But I had done my homework, so I already knew what was coming.

However, the single thing that happened to me at Key Foods yesterday to save me the most money was not the sale on Cheerios. It was the acquirement of a little bit of wisdom about coffee filters.

I have long known that paper towels are an acceptable substitute for coffee filters when you are in a bind, and so I frequently go long periods of time using paper towels when I am between owning coffee filters, and everything turns out fine. But then I eventually buy more coffee filters and go back to the regular way of doing things. As I was walking around the Supermarket yesterday, it occurred to me that paper towels are a lot cheaper than coffee filters. Why would I ever buy coffee filters? Am I retarded? I am finished with coffee filters unless someone can give me a reason why they are better than paper towels.

Part 30: Picking up Some Stuff
thefrugalbuffet
Today I went to Met Foods on Driggs. There was a 2-for-$5 sale on orange and grapefruit juice. I picked up one of each. I usually only buy those things when the prices are low like that. I can't bring myself to spend more than $3 on orange juice. I also picked up a liter of skim milk, and two bunches of celery, which were $1.50 each. Celery is one of the few vegetables that I usually get at the grocery store instead of at Young Fruit, where they charge $1.99. However, Young Fruit did recently have celery on sale for 99 cents a bunch. They were pretty large bunches. I was able to go through 3 or 4 of them before they ended the sale.

Did you know that what most people call a "bunch" of celery, the USDA refers to as a "stalk," and that what most people refer to as a "stalk" of celery, the USDA refers to as a "branch?" My natural inclination is to refer to both of them as stalks, but then I think about it for a second and realize that I should have a different word for each, and then I end up going with "bunch" and "stalk." I would have trouble getting myself to say "branch" in any situation involving celery, but maybe I'll try anyway. It seems like that might be a cool thing to do.
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Part 29: Mayo (Mayonnaise)
thefrugalbuffet
A few days ago, I was at Key Food. 40-ounce jars of Hellmann's Mayonnaise were on sale for $2.99 each. I picked up two. I'll be set with mayo for quite a long time. I just might make myself some chicken salad tonight. Yum Yum.