Coffee…and Changing Times

Coffee Makin’s

So a friend wrote in passing about making cold-press coffee (all the rage these days), which reminded me that I’d learned how to make the stuff years ago…and caused me to wonder if you couldn’t make it very simply in a French press. I mean, think about it: rather than having to filter it through a Melitta or other type of filter, all you’d have to do is push the French press’s filter down…et voilà.

The idea is to measure out your ground coffee into a pot or carafe. Pour in the amount of water you’d usually dispense into the pot. Cover and place in the fridge overnight. Then, in the morning, run this slurry through a coffee filter (a Melitta filter would work well) and zap a cupful in the microwave. Or serve it as iced coffee.

But why not use a French press?

So I tried it. And by golly! It REALLY works!

The French press plunger did a fine job of filtering the brew. The result is a strong but also mellow cuppa. Very successful. Very easy. And exactly zero coffee-puttering chores in the morning.

There’ll Be Some Changes Made…

And in other precincts, other kinds of changes are majorly under way.

The covid-19 flap has inspired some serious revisions in the way business is to be done here at the Funny Farm.

Number one entails “Mormonizing” the approach to buying and storing food. I do not intend ever to find myself without necessary food and household supplies as a result of panic buying, whether the public panic is justified or not. After this I intend to have a bare minimum of three months’ worth of food and supplies in the house; preferably more like six. Or better: a year’s worth.

Costco now has paper goods back. This week I contrived to score a package of paper towels and a package of toilet paper, ô hallelujah! A package of Costco paper towels has 12 generous rolls (that are NOT loosely wound so as to make it look like there’s more on the roll than there really is… (Never buy Safeway PT’s!!). I figure that barring a major mess to clean up, one roll of paper towels lasts at least a week or ten days. To be on the conservative side, then, one package of Costco paper towels should last 12 weeks, or three months. In reality: probably longer.

So, in the stockpiling department, I figure if you can get two Costco  paper-towel packages on hand, you have enough to last six months. So the plan is to send the Instacart crew off  to Costco again to grab (among other things) one more package of PT’s, guaranteeing a six-month supply. Then, as the first 12-roll bag begins to dwindle toward two remaining, buy another bag. This would mean (in theory, barring another national catastrophe) at any given time I would have no less than a three-month supply. And if the things didn’t show up on the shelf over a period of three to six months…well…paper towels would be the least of our problems.

A Costco bag of toilet paper contains 30 rolls, which for me is effectively a lifetime supply. Same idea, though: start with two bags full, and as the first 30 dwindle down to around 15, get another package. In that case, you’d never have less than a bagful and a half: 45 rolls.

Grocery store shelves here are still half-bare, and many necessaries are unavailable. At Amazon, though, I managed to find a 2-pound bag of King Arthur brand yeast (King Arthur is about the best in the baking-products industry), which should arrive here in another couple of days. That will go straight into the freezer. Also contrived to buy some more flour.

And therein lies another covid-inspired Big Change: discovered that the bread I can make in my own kitchen, even the simplest version, is far better than even the very best, fancy, European-style bread from AJs. So that will improve the lifestyle, and at the same time save a bit of cash: those fresh-baked French- and Italian-style loaves ain’t cheap.

In the bread-making department, the other thing I wanna do is get a smaller, brand-new, un-greasy propane grill that I can use exclusively as a baking oven. The countertop oven DOES work to bake a loaf of bread. However, its capacity is limited. And, in keeping with a friend’s suspicion of the things as a potential fire hazard, every time I use it for anything other than toasting a piece of bread, I unplug it and drag it out of the garage and into the kitchen, where I can keep an eye on it all the time it’s baking the bread. The proposed propane “oven” could also be used to bake casseroles — again, the countertop oven will do that, but I ain’t lettin’ the thing mumble away to itself out in the garage while that’s going on. If this second propane grill were used only for baking bread and casseroles, it would never get greasy and so would go quite a long time without having to call the BBQs Galore guy out here to work on it. And it would save on hassle factor.

And also, in the prepping for catastrophe department, my present propane grill doesn’t have a stovetop-type burner on it. A couple of the small ones of the sort I propose to use as a bread oven do have them. If the power goes out for any length of time, the gas stovetop won’t work — to protect us from our idiot selves, gas stove burners now no longer will come on unless the sparker inside the unit is functioning…and of course, the sparker runs on electric. In that case, you couldn’t even heat a pot of water in this house, unless you have portable propane camp stove. Or a grill with a side burner.

Le Shopping

Another change in the strategies for daily living that I think will become permanent is what we might call the Shopping Mode. I’ve learned a lot about shopping with Instacart and through Amazon. My guess is that about 90% to 95% of the things you can buy that are not fresh meat or fresh produce can be had remotely. Some of this 90% would be a bit of a PITA to acquire online or through runners. But that would still leave maybe 85% to 90% of groceries and sundries shopping that need not be done in person.

So first, I’m going to sit down and think through, in a systematic way, about what items are best purchased in person — and where, and about what items can be ordered up online. Then make lists of what to get, where to get it, when to get it, and how to get it.

Of course, you have to pay extra for stuff you have delivered…BUT…my guess is you’d save that much in gasoline alone. I have yet to purchase a full tank of gasoline since the covid scare started! Back in March. Right now the Annoying Venza still has half-a-tank of gasoline, and I’ve only been to the pump once in all this time.

This will change the vendors that I use routinely. Alas, I fear, the beloved AJ’s is going away. Fry’s may, too: it’s a long drive from here to get to an upscale outlet. Meat and household goods will come from Costco; fill in with household stuff from Target, Fry’s, or Amazon. Fresh vegetables and fruits from Sprouts.

And in the fresh produce department, I’m going to get a whole lot more serious about growing vegetables. I think I’ll buy a couple of raised vegetable beds or large that are deep enough to accommodate root vegetables. Chard grows magnificently here, and I love the stuff. So that will be Crop #1. The tomato plants in back already have ten or twelve tomatoes ripening. The ones in front, not so much: they’re kinda stunted. I think that may be the soil, which is hard as a rock. That can be remedied with some compost and a man with a strong back. I’ll ask Gerardo to set the cousins to digging a few bags of Lowe’s best compost into that dirt out there, and while they’re at it, put them up to improving the drip system in that flowerbed.

Then I could have chard, possibly spinach (or not: it tends to struggle here), several varieties of leaf lettuce, carrots, beets, chives, little green onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, possibly some new potatoes, possibly yellow onions. Most of these (except the peppers, tomatoes, & eggplant) grow only in the winter here, but it’s mighty easy to blanche and freeze any of them. Interestingly, even tomatoes can be frozen…who knew?

One of my friends has gotten artichokes to grow here (though they do a lot better in a coastal climate like Salinas’s or Hollister’s) — that might be worth a try. She also gets blackberries to grow in gay profusion…exactly how escapes me, but I intend to ask her. Apparently blueberries will grow here, too.  Looks like more trouble than it’s worth, though. Apples and pears used to grow at the ranch (which was up on  the Rim), but I believe the Valley is too hot for those.

And finally in the produce department: I may start buying most or all of my produce at farmer’s markets. A thriving farmer’s market does business in the parking lot of a church just east of the ’Hood. I could almost walk over there, though hauling stuff back here would be a chore. That’s assuming the market revives after the covid scare dies down.

Then there’s the wine cellar scheme: Get two crates of wine: one of reds and one of whites. Total Wine will sell you a nice boxful of wine with cardboard separators (i.e., a crate) and let you choose which ones you’d like for the contents. I think they give you a discount if you buy 12 bottles. These get stored in the closet of the spare bedroom/storage room, which is nice and cool even in the dead of summer. Then, when I use up a bottle of wine, I replace it with a new single purchase, so that at no time will this stash be down more than two or at most three bottles.

Come the Apocalypse, at least I’ll be able to stay drunk through it.

My son’s strategy, in the wine department, is boxed wine. And I hafta admit, he has found a brand whose deliciousness rivals the fine $9/bottle vintages I favor. That would be a simpler strategy — a box of red and a box of white, at any given time. I’ll have to think through the logistics of that: how to keep from (horrors!!) running out.

Kilt-Lifter, my current preferred beer, can be had at a ridiculous discount by the case from Costco. This stuff, too, could be stored in the “wine cellar.”

So that would make some significant changes in day-to-day and long-term ways of doing business here at the Funny Farm.

Even though setting up a garden is expensive at the outset, if you grew that much produce and froze it, over time you’d save a fair amount on grocery bills. And on gas: because most of my grocery junkets are occasioned by the need for fresh produce (I eat a lot of it), over the long term I’d make a whole lot fewer trips to grocery stores. Same is true if I walked to the farmer’s market every Saturday.

Meat would have to be purchased in person…but if you’re buying lifetime supplies at Costco and freezing it, you’d only need to go up there about once every two or three months. Same would be true of household supplies: you could probably cut the Costco junkets by 30% to 50% by not buying produce there.

Wine? Beer? Same thing: If you had a stash in-house, there would be no reason to buy booze at Costco more often than about once every two or three months. And that is stuff you can send Instacart to get. So really, you’d never make a trip to Costco or Total Wine to buy wine or beer: you could have the Instacart runners replenishing your supply every few weeks, as you go through a bottle or three.

And of course household products such as paper towels, TP, laundry and dish detergent, and the like, could also be picked up from Costco by Instacart runners.

So you’d do a whole lot less driving, on a permanent basis. If you actually walked to a farmer’s market or to a reasonably close-by supermarket, you’d get extra exercise during the cooler months (couldn’t do it at this time of year, hereabouts!). That would cut not only your gas bill but your car insurance: mine was already reduced by 15% this year. If I could show a lot lower mileage overall, they’d probably make that a permanent cut.

You’d get more exercise with the gardening, too. So overall, these kinds of activities would probably help improve your health, as well as your bank balance.

Interesting outcome, isn’t it?

Gasoline in the Age of Covid

Wow! Just ran down to the Costco to fill up on gas, the word from On High being that the state will “re-open” in two days. That is much, much too soon. It’s as if our honored governor is saying, “Please, God, give us a resurgence! Maybe it’ll kill off my political rivals.” But whatever: it is what it is. Or will be…

So I figured I’d better get gas now, before a) the endless waits in line are back and b) the prices go soaring back up.

Cruised right up to a pump — no wait, zero-point-zero zero! Hot dang…a first in the history of Costco shopping.

The car needed less than half a tankful. It was 2/3 full when the covid quarantine came crashing down on us. Over the past two months, I’ve burned less than 1/8 of a tank driving down to my son’s house and making a verboten run on AJ’s. That’s it. No drivey, no buyee gasolinee.

Price? A dollar a gallon less than I paid the last time I filled up. From $2.85 down to $1.85.

You can be sure they’ll raise the price at least back to what it was before the shut-down. Probably higher.

Have you looked at food prices in your favorite grocery stores? I’m not usually very sensitive to prices — I tend to buy what I need and not worry about what it costs. But… $22 a pound for beefsteak did get my attention.

One of the weirdnesses of being locked up for two months is that you forget routine stuff that previously was so internalized it was like breathing.

For example, I failed to recall that Costco does not take American Express anymore, no way no how. Because Costco is a membership deal, to buy gas there you have to insert your membership card in the pump before you insert your credit card. First time I went by there, a few days ago, I forgot the membership card annoyance and so, in disgust, left without pumping gas. Today I dutifully ran the card through the reader (twice…). Then stuck in a charge card.

“Get lost! We don’t take American Express,” quoth the gas pump.

This negated the transaction, so now I had to drag out the membership card and jump through that hoop…again. Then stick in a debit card.

The fill-up cost $17.

Refilling that vehicle normally costs just upwards of $30. That is, yes, about $60 a month for the privilege of driving around the crazy-making streets of Phoenix.

It occurs to me that some important penny-pinching lessons are to be learnt from the covid adventure. One is pretty  obvious:

The less you drive around, the less you’ll spend on gasoline.

Okay. But there’s a corollary.

The less you drive around, the less you’ll spend on anything.

The less you spend on groceries, for example. Why? Because if you can spare only a limited number of trips, then you will plan your meals and your grocery lists more carefully. You’ll diddle away a whole lot less on impulse buys and afterthoughts at the grocery store. And you’ll spend lots less on restaurants if you have some reason not to go driving around to get a meal that can easily be prepared in your kitchen.

You’ll ask yourself things like Do I really need a haircut right this minute? Can I go for a week or two without it? Or can I wait a few days or a week before running to the [grocery store] [drugstore] [Target] [Costco] [whatEVER]? Or Why am I schlepping to a restaurant when I can get a delivery service to pick it up for me? Or Do I really need to drive to a movie theater when I have a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription?

I suspect the shape of America’s economy will indeed be changed permanently, as some pundits speculate. And that will happen because we will have figured out or remembered truths that we have forgotten.

Meditations in the Time of Plague

So how long have we been officially locked down? Nigh unto a month? And a couple weeks before that we who had any brains were wary enough that we were effectively self-locked down. How long, all told? I’ve lost track.

Over the past home-bound weeks, I’ve slipped into a kind of goofy daze. Have managed to keep the house reasonably clean — that’s something. But otherwise have loafed, loafed, and loafed some more.

Consequently, I’ve put on 10 pounds!

So as of today, it’s back on the diet. The dog and I walked, briskly, for an hour this morning, and will do it again this evening. And tomorrow morning and evening…and the next day’s morning and evening…and the next day’s…

Who would think you burn 10 pounds’ worth of calories driving around town, walking across parking lots, climbing into the choir loft once a week? How?

On the other hand, I haven’t purchased gasoline since March 1st! Today is April 18, and the car still has 2/3 of a tank of gas. I normally buy gas once or twice a month. At this rate, I certainly won’t have to get a fill-up before the end of the month, and probably not then.

A tank of gas that lasts two months? Wow!

The main reason for this has little to do with my own desire to hunker down and everything to do with my son’s request that I not leave the house, especially not to go into retail stores. I’ve honored that, especially since he’s willing to do the shopping. It also, in theory, gives me an opportunity to experiment with merchandise delivery services, though so far I haven’t done so because my son is doing all the running around.

So this is one of several little revelations: if I’m not running to AJ’s whenever I happen to be at the church or in the mood, if I’m not trotting hither, thither, and yon for no very good reason but instead organize trips to serve specific needs, not impulses, probably there’s no need to buy gasoline more than about once every two months. Indeed, if I were to have groceries delivered, most of my driving would be mooted. And since a tank of gas costs about $30, that could represent a considerable savings.

Next revelation: Halellujah brothers and sisters, and thank God for Costco!

Because of my habit of shopping at Costco, which pretty much forces you to buy lifetime supplies of staples and household goods, I was bloody well not about to run out of anything that mattered. Except, of course, for toilet paper. I happened to have a half-dozen rolls of Walmart’s Best in the house, but since I prefer the Kirkland brand, it was by sheer chance that I wandered into the Deer Valley Costco on a Friday just as the TP frenzy started. And sheer luck that I happened to walk into the paper goods department in time to grab the third-to-last package of the stuff.

Thirty rolls will, as they always do, last me for several months. So will the nine rolls of paper towels that I happened to have remaining from some earlier Costco run.

Those paper towels will last me even longer now that the next little revelation has dawned:

Why am I using paper towels all the time, anyway? Yeah. Why???? When I was growing up, my mother and I didn’t have paper towels. We used dishrags. Anyone remember those? You had a square rag for kitchen and bathroom cleanup, and for washing the dishes. You didn’t throw it away when you were done using it. No. Hang onto your hats, young folks: you washed it!

You used paper — newsprint, actually — to wash windows and to wrap garbage. That was about it. Oh — and to write on, of course. In those days, people could write. With pens and pencils.

Well, I happen to have about 30 microfiber towels just about the size of a classic dishrag, courtesy of Costco. Thank God for Costco! So I tried using one in place of the wads of paper towels I pull off the roll, swab around, and then toss into the trash. And lo! It works. It doesn’t just work, it works handsomely. It absorbs more moisture. It cleans the counter better. It shines the brightwork better. And…should I say it again? It goes into the washer, not into the landfill.

Revelation the Fourth: Life in These United States is one hell of a lot more precarious than we think it is. (Why do these things seem so obvious to me now?) The present public health horror could not have happened at a worse time, with an ignoramus in the White House play-acting at being President — or Emperor, or King, or Tsar, or Führer, or whateverthehell he imagines he is — while craven interests that do not have the public’s welfare at heart work behind the scenes.

In the absence of good leadership, the covid-19 contagion has brought our country damn near to its knees. We’re looking at a recession that will at best rival but more likely exceed the Great Depression.

Do I really need to point out that Europe is not on its knees? And neither is China. A failure of leadership at this juncture — at just the wrong time — is likely to prove catastrophic.

And that is not an exaggeration, my friends.

Revelation the Fifth: The Mormons had it right. Stemming, as it does, from a rural culture, the Mormon church urges its followers always to be prepared and stocked up for a rainy day. What’s a rainy day? Could be just about anything: a year when the crops fail…a tornado that takes out the farmhouse and barn…death of a breadwinner…loss of a mother…a lost job…a Great Depression…a flood…a drought…a tornado…a Civil War…a devastating contagion…a moron in the White House… The message appears to be that you need to make yourself, at least to a credible degree, ready for hard times.

My dear ex-husband had a law partner, Monroe McKay, an extraordinary man, who, after a stint directing the Peace Corps in Malawi went on to become a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals justice. Monroe was a good Mormon boy — on steroids. One of the interesting things we learned from him is that he and his wife always had a year’s worth of supplies stocked in for themselves and their nine children.

They had a pantry closet in which Monroe had installed shelving on a slight angle, slanting downward toward the front of the closet, with a lip at the bottom to serve as a block. At all times, they kept a year’s worth of canned goods on these shelves, the cans arranged on their sides in rows, so they would roll forward when a can in front was removed. Thus if you took out, say, a can of tomatoes, a dozen more cans behind it would roll down behind that can. When you next went to the store, you would buy a new can of tomatoes and put it in the back, up at the top of the row. In addition, they kept large bags of pinto beans and rice.

So you understand: when this latest panic happened, these folks didn’t have to go running around frantically stocking up on whatever they imagined might keep body and soul together. They had already thought it through. And they already had their stockpile.

What do you bet they also had a generator, should the power fail? What do you bet they kept a rotating stock of gasoline, should the country run short of fuel? What do you bet they had a propane stove on which to cook those beans and canned veggies, if push came to shove?

The time has come, my friends, to pay attention to this institutional wisdom. The time has come to get prepared.

You should not have to run around frantically trying to buy toilet paper: you should always have enough in the house to last several weeks or, better, several months.

You should not have to wonder what will happen if the power goes down for a long while: you should have a generator and enough propane to suffice until a major failure can be repaired.

You should not fear running out of food if you have to hunker down in your house for a period of weeks: you should have enough staple foods to last you and your family for a bare minimum of two or three months.

You should not go to the grocery store and find there’s no yeast and no flour on the shelves, to say nothing of no bread. You should have yeast and flour stored in the freezer.

You should not be in a position to run out of clean water should the water processing plants fail or be attacked: you should always have several five-gallon jugs full of fresh water. Once a month, pour one out onto your garden, refill it, and move it to the back, so that you regularly refresh your supply with new water.

You should never run out of detergent and soap and shampoo. You should always have enough in a closet or washroom to last your family several months.

And, let’s be completely frank about this: You should not fear roving mobs of “patriots” rioting to demand that the government shut down or open up under the most irrational circumstances. You should be armed and prepared to defend yourself and your family. And I don’t mean with a baseball bat.

A Historic Moment in Gasoline Pricing?

Gas pump in Jacksonville, Florida. Wikipedia Commons.

Can you even remember when you last paid less than $3.00 a gallon for gasoline?

Lordie! This noon I swung by the Costco that regularly has the chain’s cheapest prices in town, to refill half a tank: two dollah and ninety-nine cents a gallon!

Okay, one cent does not a lot less than $3.00/gallon make. However, the Circle K around the corner was posting $3.09 for regular unleaded.  The Exxon across the street: don’t even ask.

USA Today says prices are down around $2.75 in some parts of the country. Doesn’t seem to be happening in our parts: cheapest price registering at one of those price round-up sites is $2.95, in neighborhoods where you’d just as soon not unlock your car doors, to say nothing of get out and pump gas. I’m happy to pay four cents a gallon to fill up at a site that’s on my beaten path at an outlet that’s at least reasonably safe.

How  much are you paying in your part of the country? And do you still remember hypermiling?

Grocery-store Gasoline Discounts: Deal or No Deal?

At  Planting Our Pennies, Mrs. PoP reflects on grocery-store offers of gasoline discounts that grocery stores sometimes offer regular customers. Ultimately she concludes that these programs are hardly worth the effort.

Here in lovely uptown Phoenix, Safeway stores offer a gasoline discount after you’ve racked up some crazy number of dollars on purchased registered with the annoying red card. So every once in a while, they’ll offer my deceased dog (in whose name the card is made out) cents off on gas.

Problem: the nearest Safeway with gas pumps is way to hell and gone up on the north side! Safeway has reserved its shiniest new stores, the ones that sport gas stations, for the White Flight set. So Safeway gas stations exist only in areas close to the upper-middle-class tracts where the white folks have moved. And those areas are way, way off my beaten track. By the time I got all the way up there and back, I would have spent more on wasted gasoline than I would have saved on the gas buy.

And besides…better strategies exist.  IMHO the Costco AMEX card is about the best of those.  You get 3% back on gasoline (which is usually pretty cheap at Costco to begin with), 2% back at U.S. restaurants, 2% back on travel purchases, and 1% back on everything else. Once a year you get a lump-sum  cash back “reward” — a kickback on purchases made during the year.

There’s a Costco on every corner in this city, so it seems. Costco underprices stations in the immediate vicinity of its stores. Gasoline prices vary wildly by the part of town you’re in: in upscale Scottsdale you can pay ten to thirty cents a gallon more than other parts of town. In the westside slums, you’ll pay ten cents a gallon less than you’ll pay in the more or less middle-class tracts in the central areas or the far west.

One Costco, which is on my way to many destinations, straddles an aging middle-class district and a downscale high-density area that feathers into the gang-infested tracts bordering the I-17. That thing ALWAYS has the lowest prices around. I try to time gas purchases to days when I know I have to drive down in that direction. The gas is cheaper in the first place, and then I get a 3% kickback on it.

So ultimately, by purchasing gas at Costco regularly — even if I happen to be at one of the higher-priced outlets — I end up saving a lot more than I would if I traipsed up to North Phoenix for the privilege of collecting “bargain” gas from Safeway.

In the gasoline department, BTW: man, quitting the hateful teaching gig sure is saving on the gas! In the last month I taught, the four-day-a-week commute racked up an astonishing $230 in gasoline bills. In the first full month of freedom: just $80.

Just think of all the things I can diddle away that $150 savings on! 😀

Go$h! Gasoline Gobsmack

So yesterday afternoon I hear on the radio that gas prices are on the way back up. This noon I’m at Costco and notice on their sign that the price there is $3.09.

Huh. That seems like a pretty fair price, and so even though I’m down only a quarter of a tank, I decide to fill up on the way out.

Right.

The lines at the pumps are almost back to the street! So much gas is flowing out of there that they have not one but two tankers pouring more in. Apparently everybody else has the same idea–grab it while the grabbing’s good–because nobody lingers long at the pump. In a couple of minutes the lady in front of me and I both pull into the shade and jump out of our cars.

The dog chariot only takes $20 worth, but the woman before me is done even quicker than I am. Shortly I’m cruising south on the freeway, headed for the Funny Farm.

Price at the two off-ramp stations: $3.23.  Nice: a 14-cent savings!

But I figure gas stations along the freeway are always overpriced.

Approaching my neighborhood through the slum to the north, where prices should be lower, I spot the sign on the corner Circle K: $3.29!!!

Wow!

Though I’ve never bought gas at a Circle K, because at least around here they’re not the safest venues for a lone woman, I’ve noticed that sometimes they’re on the low end. But even at “convenience” prices: twenty cents a gallon more than Costco?

Mwa ha ha! I feel very smug.

Images:

Gasoline pump, Indiana. Derek Jensen. Public Domain.

Circle K, Japan. Artist’s name not given. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.