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The Thrifty BonVivant celebrates in Cleveland

20 Nov

The BonVivant is not a cake lover, but is a cake admirer and wishes these had supplied birthday cheer to all her pals

This past week made me formally a year older, and some external celebrations were in order–I wish I could have had bigger parties, but these little excursions were November delights. So live vicariously, and if you don’t know these Cleveland stops, put them on your radar! And please take a slice from one of these inventive birthday cakes–although they didn’t grace my table, they provided a digital feast for my eyes.

I needed to renew my driver’s license, and my friend Miss D suggested a trip to the Brooklyn DMV might

This gets the idea across

prove quick. It was incredibly fast and pleasant, and–I can’t phrase it any other way, though it does date me–a hoot! Because the strip mall location does not prepare the motorist (no, I don’t drive, but I do have a license and want to keep it!) for the exotically pink, black and zebra-accented interior that is this

bureaucratic stop. It made me grin and I got a great license picture as a result! Why oh why

Buon appetito!

did I neglect to take a photo? You must see for yourself!

After the swift and successful license renewal, it was time for lunch, and three of us decided nothing would do but Bruno’s Ristorante, at 2644 W. 41st St.  From the outside it’s an unpretentious place, and the interior is pleasant and restrained (with a great-

Two-fisted culinary love for perch!

looking bar), but it supplies one of the city’s best dining experiences. Because it’s about real service and delicious food. Not “Hi, I’m your waiter John” pseudo-sincerity of the type that doesn’t mind interrupting an intense conversation for an inane inquiry. No. Real service to go along with your cloth

But not for long, Chicken Marsala

napkin. Service that’s pleasant, inobtrusive, attentive but not hovering. The kind Dino or Peter Lawford would have enjoyed. Professional service. Oh, and fantastic food, beginning with the still fresh-baked warmth of the delicious bread with REAL HERBED BUTTER. Funny enough, I was just talking about how much I liked herbed butter in Europe, where it’s made commercially, wrapped in metallic foil like a bigger version of a diner’s butter. Bruno’s had me so reentranced with it that I made it at home the next day, with a little oregano and garlic powder; I’m thinking of getting one of those small shaped rubber ice cube trays at the dollar store and molding some to freeze and give out at Christmas. Anyway, all the recipes at Bruno’s were concocted by a true Mamma from the Old Country, and she knows her stuff. The table had a variety of tasty meals, all automatically with side dishes (kitchen-made soup or salad with a delicious balsamic dressing plus pasta). I was the veal parm, Miss D was the chicken (or was it veal?) marsala, and Mr D was breaded perch. I was so satisfied that my meal was over before I thought to take a photo, so I will entertain you with theirs. Mr D said he had never had better fish–and he eats plenty of it. Miss D loved her Italian Wedding Soup and marsala–but she saved

The Strange Case of the Vanishing Tiramisu

room for the tiramisu, which she had an intimate acquaintance with. Mr D took a forkful and almost fainted from bliss. Not only did the whole experience please me no end–Italian is my favorite cuisine–I loved the nostalgia it produced. There were a couple of guys (lawyers?) gesticulating in the corner as they wolfed down their food, Frank was playing softly through the speakers, and there were butter mints, toothpicks and MATCHES at the door. I haven’t seen imprinted matches in ages, but everyplace used to. Bruno’s is a place with neighborhood swagger that it well deserves. They cater, toom and are priced nostalgically–thank you, Bruno!

This once was a Walleye Sandwich

Lunch for three was under $45.

This once was Christmas Ale

A few days later was the actual bday, and it was time for lunch at the West Side Market Cafe. I have been there many a time, and never disappointed. Again, excellent service in a busy spot. Mr. D could not resist his favorite, the breaded walleye sandwich, while I embraced the pulled pork sandwich. Everything fresh, hot, plentiful, and with flavor far surpassing what the luncheonette appearance would suggest. This spot, like Bruno’s, piles on the value for money. In a festive mood, it was time for Christmas Ale from Great Lakes Brewery, but the cafe does something with it that the Brewery didn’t (at least not on Halloween)–they dipped the glass rims in cinnamon and sugar. Yes, ask for it!

Horizontal books--ideal for the thrifty book explorer! Surprising treats!

We roamed about a bit–have you been shopping at W. 25th’s Horizontal Books? They deserve your custom! With both current bestsellers and remaindered works, their size is just right–good selection, not so big that you can’t look at most sections. Their pricing policy allows 50% off the first book, 60% off both if you buy two, and 70% off all if you buy three. And I just noticed as I tracked down the link that they have free shipping. Can’t beat that! Please support them so the city’s easily reachable bookstores stay easily reachable–none downtown except for textbooklands.

On to the Capitol Theatre, the restored 1921 wonder on W. 65th just off Detroit. What a

The West Side's Cedar Lee--but with an authentic early lobby

gem! We were there in the late afternoon on a weekday, so only one other couple shared the viewing with us, and there was a deal on popcorn. We saw Tower Heist, a fun film with Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Heavy D in a small role (RIP), Casey Affleck and Alan Alda–what a distinctive voice that guy’s got! A good popcorn film, and one certainly enhanced by a big

Downtown can't beat Luxe for atmosphere or creative dishes--warm almonds anywone? Veal-stuffed olives?

screen.

Dinner? My favorite spot, Luxe. Just across Detroit. I’ve loved it since it opened–it’s an ultra-stylish place that in NYC or Philly would be overpriced because of its imaginative dishes and appetizers–and drinks–and its funky eclecticism. But here in Cleveland it’s exceedingly reasonable. The bar (where one can also nosh) is always hopping, but the dining room is quieter (same great mix of DJ’ed background music, though). If you want fancy cocktails, they have inventive

When pizza is served on a silver salver, it deserves the knife & fork treatment

Hearty onion soup is as Luxe as anything

ones–I opted for a non-alcoholic one this time, and it was equally splendid: lavender-infused carbonated lemonade with a blueberry syrup drizzle. Oh, yes. I wanted the margarita pizza and wolfed its basil deliciousness down like a goat. Mr. D was overfull from the popcorn and stuck with the onion soup, which he drained with deep satisfaction. Lucky for me, they were out of blood orange sorbet, or I might still be there.

I love going to new places and trying them out, but this birthday was about familiar and favored stops. Tried and true, still atmospheric with three moods. You won’t be disappointed if they become your choices.

Chronic Gloom in Wintry Months

11 Nov

The bright band at the right shows the time on this futuristic sundial

It’s been a fairly bright Fall in northeastern Ohio. I love light. Sundials are a lovely anachronistic way to tell time, and they don’t have to look anachronistic (though that has its charms). Here’s onethat’s precise, within 30 seconds of the atomic clock. Plus it adjusts for latitude and Daylight Savings! Nonetheless, it requires those rays

A touch of Cleveland color in this great shot of Tony Smith's "Last", on Superior. Photo by Rob Corder

to pierce through the firmament. And that’s usually a tall order in Cleveland, once November kicks in. This week has vacillated between the cheery, the overcast, and the clouds of doom, and expecting more of the latter isn’t pessimistic, it’s just what the almanacs of yore support.

My townhouse has plenty of windows, but they seem veiled on days like this. As I’ve mentioned before, a dose of color can help, both indoors and out. And our downtown is fairly devoid of color, with the exception of a few doses of flat reds, like Oldenberg’s Free Stamp or Tony Smith‘s Last. The Belgian sculptor Arne Quinze created an installation that extends the glorious foliage of autumn—his 2008 installation The Sequence, brightens a corner of Brussels, another frequently gloomy metropolis, with a

This Belgian installation brings not only color but an intimate interconnectness to an urban street.

wooden canopy. Because it interacts with the small urban trees, its palette gets a chance to change throughout the year. I like the way it creates a new sense of street, and imagine how, on the rare sunny day, dappled light would stream down through it. It’s been up for three years, but it won’t be permanent–it’s made from wood, so its shelf life is limited–knowledge that contributes to its organic feel.

A relic! The first street lamp in the U.S., on Cleveland's Public Square.

Of course, we’re used to artificial light to banish gloom, and this can also be an uplifting experience. The antique lighting fixture on the corner of Public Square’s Key Bank is a classic example–it’s not just a fabulous cast iron Art Nouveau form, it marks the first American street lamp, the invention of Clevelander Charles Brush in 1879, If Cleveland is the U.S. birthplace of public electric lighting (he improved significantly on a British invention), and East Cleveland’s NELA Park was the first industrial park, based on GE’s buyout of a local lighting company, then one would think Cleveland should remain a leader in urban lighting–and not just at Christmas time.

It may seem that Tower City is doing its part here. Illuminated in lurid red and green during December, iit’s been branching out–green for St. Patrick’s Day, for example. It’s currently a curiously livid purple, which I

Public Square chameleoning it for varied purposes

thought was perhaps a Halloween whimsy–very wrong. The purple is a greater-than-Cleveland October initiative, meant to “shine the light” on domestic abuse. Noble though that may be, conventional lighting isn’t really what I’m thinking about. It can be sprightly, such as the simple lights that make 4th Street such an alluring nighttime destination, or snazzy, like Playhouse Square’s marquee and it RTA lighted sculpture.

Shanghai's nightlights make you want to put on party shoes!

It’s difficult to compete with some cities–Shanghai has an illuminated skyline that would make Las Vegas feel toned down. But what I was thinking about wasn’t necessarily this unrelenting drive to create a frenzied nightlife (though I appreciate that), but rather a way to illuminate in both temporary and permanent ways, ways that exploit new technologies and create a sense of place–sometimes intimate, sometimes celebratory, and sometimes mysterious.

Okay–like what? All right class, let’s look at a few examples. Some are art installations, some functional only. Let’s get creative in Cleveland–everybody needs to feel the glow in the winter. The Cleveland Museum of Art has its Lantern Festival every December, and occasionally it’s aligned with the downtown Winterfest, but everything doesn’t have to be institutionally driven. How about a competition along Euclid, or those dark stretches of Lorain Avenue?

CO2LED in Virginia

Example One: This is an elegant installation that occurred in Rosslyn, VA, a waterside town by DC. Echoing the Potomoc’s reeds, it’s made from 522 rods, each topped with a recycled plastic bottle that encloses a solar-powered LED light. Artists Jack Sanders, Robert Gay and Butch Anthony dismantled the project after its summer run, with the plan of recycling all of its components.

Solar plastic trees that hold real foliage

Omar Ivan Huerta Cardoso, a Mexican designer with Milan, Spanish and Mexican training, created solar trees to replace street lamps. The plastic “tree’s” extremities have cavities for seeds to be planted, which grow hydroponically from water in the trunk and limbs. Solar-powered LEDs in the base throw light that diffuses through the water to create a glow. These have their critics–one comments, “Who maintains the plants when they grow, a service team who has to cone off the road to gain access to each tree. very expensive. 2m high so this is easily climbed not good. most authorities have a 2.4m minimum height before banners to deter climbing. it is not one piece so lots of castings that marry up with glass or acrylic. going to be hard to marry the tolerances, and the weight will cause stress fractures on the glass, esp with wind loading.” Unlike the installation above, this project is intended to have a practical side, but I think it’s more suitable as niche lighting, rather than a citywide endeavor. Still, has an intriguing side.

 

 

 

 

While a solar-powered “brick” with illuminating powers in any color is coming down in cost as a building envelope component, it isn’t quite in the affordable range yet. But solar-powered, cordless LED pavers are, and could be creatively used in, say, the upcoming rework of Public Square as a traffic-free zone, or as part of CSU’s new Campus Village.

 

 

 

Using light to create a new interpretation of daytime space can be extremely transformative. Rotterdam had a competition that featured the potential of light, and the project-winning design creates a mood that both illuminates and changes the familiar streetscape of Atjehstraat.

Entitled Broken Light, it projects columns of light onto building facades, and creates tesselated patterns on the sidewalk. The projections can be changed as desired, allowing for variance. A lyrical video contrasts the day and nighttime appearance of Atjehstraat; there’s a lengthy description of the project in the YouTube “show more” area. I’d love to see something like this in Cleveland.

This is Kansas, not PA, but the luminaria lighting effect is the same.

 

In my home town suburb, there’s an annual Christmas tradition of luminaria–each family donates some money, distributors set up paper bags with a little sand on the bottom and a lit votive candle inside, and they’re spaced along the sidewalks up and down the streets. Some cities have them as part of a relay fundraising drive. It’d be

Solar-powered commercial lantern, with LED light inside

great to see them lining Euclid on a cold winter’s evening–better yet, Lorain, as it needs a facelift and could accommodate driving viewers more easily. Luminaria and lanterns can get quite fancy, but even the simplest light up the night and make the heart glow. I’ll be looking for more Cleveland illuminations–it’s a long winter.

A jaunt to Vermilion, OH–“A Small Town on a Great Lake!”

4 Nov

Summer lingers in Vermilion, even in November

Autumn should always be so sunny and carefree! My friend Miss J and I were free as birds and decided to hop westwards to Vermilion, just 45 minutes from Cleveland. What a joy! Route 6 may just be the perfect lakefront road, with views of great houses and boats and tiny resort homes, industry and orchards. If the weather holds–and it’s supposed to be sunny and in the 50s again tomorrow, the 60s on Sunday–I suggest you take a trip there this weekend as well. Vermilion is a charmer, but it gets more visitors in the summer months. They’re missing out! Fall foliage and loads of flowers combine with historical structures and a real sense of place.

The interior of the Knotty Pine. Many nice culinary touches, as well as fresh flowers and perfect service

We headed straight for lunch at the Knotty Pine Eatery, recommended by a friendly shop owner. Its food was tasty indeed, the hamburger on a delicious ciabatta bun with veggies and dip (Miss J had a vegetarian dish and pronounced herself deeply satisfied). The town has numerous dining options; The Old Prague is a Czech spot that

Yes, it revolves just the way it's supposed to

had Wiener schnitzel on the menu, there’s a taphouse, a pizza spot, deli, bar and grille, a coffee spot, and Quaker Steak and Lube right on the water. The most enchanting just might be Chez Francois. Closed for lunch, it has some lovely landscaping and looks directly onto the river. A peek through the window revealed spotless tablecloths and an ambiance meant for a proposal. A short walk took us from the main intersection to the lake, but it was a walk with lovely views, turn-of-the-century houses that made me think Penrod might be around the corner, the Inland Seas Maritime Museum in an old mansion, and an intriguing shop/place of refreshment, called Decidedly

Where's my cerulean blue and a canvas?

Different. We did not escape unscathed, but were exceedingly content with our highly reasonable purchases of loose tea (chocolate mint) and a distinctive necklace apiece. The beach is small and was empty, but the seagulls seemed pleased to watch the waves with us.

While the lake is always a draw, it’s the river and its “lagoons” that were enthralling. Vermilion’s been in business since the early 19th century, initially home to fishermen who built huts along the Vermilion River and Lake Erie‘s shores. As the century wore on and the railroad swept through town, the fish export business picked up further.  Commercial fishing grew to be the town’s biggest industry, and Vermilion was home to many Lake captains, who built their landlubbing bases there. In 1985, Ohio outlawed gillnets; commercial operations ceased and recreational ones blossomed. Yachting had

Some of the Lagoon houses across the water.

become popular much earlier, because harborage was developed in the downtown area by Clevelander Louis A. Wells (1891-1965). Wells, who was born in the village of Wellsville near Columbiana, OH (itself outside of Youngstown), was “in the tub-boat business and in sea front break-water and land recovery in the Lake Erie and St. Lawrence sea-way areas” (courtesy online genealogies). His older sister, Beulah, was a pediatrician, and he went to Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, later serving on its Board. Wells moved to Cleveland in the 1920s, and by 1930 was a Shaker Heights resident. Like many city dwellers, Wells dreamt of cool breezes during hot summers before air conditioning. He bought marshy land fronting Lake Erie and the river in Vermilion, drained it, cut “lagoons” (regularly laid-out canals), and had the area landscaped and planned so that each house–conceived of then as a resort home–would front the water with its own dock, while also having auto access to the town’s main

Foliage still much in evidence, willow trees think it's July.

road. The average price for a lot of 50 feet was $2200, and buyers were responsible for building homes to an architect’s approval: all were to be Cape Cod style, and today they are still all white and picketed. The first was completed by 1931, and most were erected 1940, although construction continued in the 1950s.

Ships and insurance--Lloyd's of London found it a winning combo

Most houses are used all year now, and several are currently for sale–they certainly look tempting, but one four-bedroom house is currently marketed at $839,000. Alas!

We wandered around the town some more, admiring the displays in the candle shop (what is it in Yankee Candles that makes me go running for the door? Some scent note I just can’t stand), and checking out other spots. Plenty of antique spots and a great consignment spot, The

The Paper Moon Winery's outer room--the inside has a beer barrel table setting with a big fireplace.

shops on Liberty Ave. (Rte. 6) almost all have little historic marker noting their previous lives as banks or places of commerce. The old-fashioned lettering on a lawyer’s window didn’t look hokey–nor did the fabulous wooden ship models decorating it (for more photos of Vermilion, click here).

Also roses and...a dandelion who apparently can't tell time.

Just south of town (via Main St and Route 60) is the Paper Moon Winery, a spot where trials of thirteen wines are possible (fifty cents each). Armed with hearty and deliciously rosemaryed cheese bread, we tested three each: Miss J loved the Old Vine Zinfandel, while I voted for the Chambourcin. It must be lovely to sit in the outer room in the summer, surrouned by life preservers and looking out the window toward the vineyards.

As we headed east, we made a quick stop at a small supermarket, the Farmer’s Market, well worth a look, since it is not a carbon copy of every chain grocery in the country. Prices were good, there were plenty of specialty items, and it was awash with the scent of apples and pears worthy of a still life. Miss J suggested I might like to retire in Vermilion. No, though I would

An appealing sliver by Chez Francois

like to visit over and over. It’s a delightful place, everyone was exceedingly pleasant, and I’d love to stop at a bed and breakfast here. But it didn’t have a very diverse-looking population, and when I checked at the end of the day, the census stated “100% white.” Where’s the Americana in that? Still, it’s brisk breeze makes it heaven to be a flag or a sail, and it can’t be easily topped for a short day trip! Visit now, and see the flowers in their subtleties and last hurrahs.

Learning at Dave’s Market, One Week’s Menu–Could be $25/wk or $33.89, depending

26 Oct

A one-week menu experiment--$25 to hand over to Dave

I completed a challenge some weeks back that forced me to come up with the best weekly menu (of things that I eat) I could that amounted to $25–but that menu was costed per meal and prorated. This time I’m challenged to do what many of us are faced with: go off to the grocery store WITH $25, and come up with a non-starvation menu for a week. One big caveat–I’m not counting things like spices, salt, oil or teabags, since those kind of staples don’t have to be bought on a weekly basis. I chose Dave’s Market in Ohio City, my go-to supermarket, for this challenge, but I’m going to try an identical one in future that relies on the West Side Market alone. A second caveat–I’m a very picky eater, and this is a busy working week. If I ate eggs, some delicious omelettes could be on the menu, or some tasty rice dishes if only I weren’t a pasta freak. If I had time, I could take some cheap cuts of meat/poultry and create more all-day, low-heat wonders. I also tried to keep this as nutritious as possible, fitting in fresh fruits and raw vegetables, ensuring protein levels weren’t too low (borderline anemia).

Constantino's of the Warehouse District--great if you don't cook!

Before delving into general observations and the menu itself, I want to thank Dave’s for being committed to the city. As I mentioned the other day, none of the nurse-practitioner clinics that CVS, Target and Walmart have are located in Cleveland proper, nor are any Kaiser facilities. Grocery stores have many similar attitudes. Yes, there is now a Giant Eagle (really TOO giant for quick shopping) on W 117th St, on the Lakewood border, and 117th’s Target, as well as that of Steelyard Commons and its neighboring Walmart do carry food, but more centralized options are slim pickings. A large and fairly new Asian grocery is Park to Shop at 1580 E. 30th, and the Warehouse District has Constantino’s Market at 1278 W. 9th, but these are specialized markets, as are the many small Arab groceries on the West Side. How is Constantino’s specialized, you say? Well, it caters to the young with no time, so it’s strong on prepared food and filler foods, weak on a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetable, certain staples. Marc‘s has some locations way out west on Lorain and on Puritas, but they aren’t easy for a non-driver to reach. Admittedly there are other pocket groceries–Sav-a-Lot, which I’ve never been in, Rico‘s on 45th & Lorain (limited size, but some fruits and veg), specialist Indian and other niche shops, but regular old standard groceries? Now that the Reserve Square grocery has closed, Dave’s on Bridge Ave by W 25th  in Ohio City, Dave’s in Chinatown at 2201 Payne, his Supermercado on Ridge Rd., and other locations on Shaker Square, in Slavic Village, at Harvard & Lee, and on E. 40th, as well as in the suburbs. That’s commitment to and investment in the city, and I for one am very grateful. Plus their fried, prepared chicken is incredibly good.

The well-stocked shelves of Dave's Market--the city dweller's savior!

Okay, some general thoughts about this project. Cooking for one on this kind of challenge is deadly boring–two people at $25 each would allow much more variety and some perks. With one person, there are no snacks except popcorn. NONE! This may be an excellent challenge for those trying to limit calories as well as expenditures. There’s a high degree of repetition in a one-week experiment, too. The good news is that there are leftovers–extra spaghetti sauce to freeze, some buns and hot dogs for the next week, cereal that carries over, and so on. Over a longer period of time, the frozen goods and partially used items introduce more variety, and hand cooked items deeply from scratch (bread!) would be fit in to times that weren’t so frantically crowded. That being said….

Menu Day One:

Breakfast: banana, bowl of puffed rice
Lunch: hot dog and bun (hey, I split them and grill them all at once for a delicious smoky flavor–a minute in the microwave brings that all back). A third of the cuke, sliced thinly in vinegar and water with lemon pepper and salt
Dinner My recipe for spaghetti sauce with meat and angelhair pasta, generous portion

Menu Day Two:

Breakfast: banana, bowl of puffed rice
Lunch: Bowl of chicken noodle soup and lots of Zesta saltines
Dinner: Hotdog and bun, big salad with lettuce, a little cucumber, part of the red pepper

A lot of habanero heat for less than 50 cents--you can put them right into the freezer, whole

Menu Day Three:

Breakfast: oh, the last banana and bowl of puffed rice–it works because the banana is very filling, and those little puffed rice grains have to be corralled onto the spoon, which gives you time to feel full.
Lunch: Peanut butter crackers galore!
Dinner: My “hot mess” with pasta. The hot mess is a quick meal–get out the cutting board and put water on to boil. More-or-less dice up the Roma tomatoes and much of the onion, chopped, along with (be careful with your fingertips!) one to one and a half habanero peppers. Put oil in the bottom of the pot–not deeply, but maybe an 1/8 of an inch or so. Heat the oil till its quite hot, throw your vegetables in and stir, adding salt and plenty of basil, a dash of dried ginger, and other herbs if you like. Turn the heat down; by the time you finish cooking the pasta, the hot mess is ready, delicious and spicy (not for the faint-hearted).

Menu Day Four:

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple cut up into slices on the puffed rice, sprinkled with a little cinnamon and brown sugar.
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Spaghetti with meat sauce and pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Five

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with puffed rice
Lunch: Chicken soup with crackers
Dinner: More hot mess with pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Six

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with peanut butter crackers (peanut butter sticks to your ribs!)
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Spaghetti and pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Seven

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with puffed rice; four peanut butter crackers to finish
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Last of the hot mess with pasta, large salad to finish off the fresh ingredients.

Purchases:

  • Zesta saltines (only item not bought at Dave’s–Dave’s may still sell them, but Saltine brands are grouped with their manufacturers’ cookies (an odd conceit) rather than banding together, so I couldn’t find them. Package was bought out-of-town at $1.79 on sale.
  • Dave’s brand hot dog buns, 8 to a package $1.29.
  • Ball Park all-beef hot dogs, 8 to a package $3.99 (on sale from their usual $4.99)
  • 3/4 pound ground round 85/15 @3,89/lb.  (normally I would buy ground sirloin for a higher price; ground beef at 80/20 was $2.99/lb, and at 72/27 was $2.88/lb) for $2.92.
  • 3 bananas @54 cents/lb. for .74 I can’t stand them after they’re ripe and get spots, so have to stick to a small number
  • Honeycrisp apples (they restored my faith in apples after scientists tinkered with and ruined the Red Delicious of my childhood) @ $1.99/lb for $3.40–pricey, but worth it, since it’s Fall! Not available all year round, which makes them special.
  • 1 head of iceberg lettuce (I don’t care what you say, I still like it better than other lettuces because it crunches!) for $1.69
  • 1 English cucumber (wash it well and you needn’t peel it–good nutrition in its dark green exterior, and sliced thin not noticeable) $1.99
  • 1 package Lipton Ring O’Noodle chicken soup (2 packets inside; each has 4 servings for a total of 8) for $1.59
  • 1 bag of substitute Puffed Rice for $1.79 (the Food Club brand had 6 oz; the Quaker was 6.4 oz., but $3.39, and the difference is infinitesimal)
  • 5 Roma tomatoes @ $1.99 (unusually low price for Dave’s this week) for $2.33
  • Jif’s natural peanut butter, 18 oz. for $3.19
  • 1 small can Contadina tomato paste for 79 cents
  • 1 large can Valutime stewed tomatoes $1.58
  • 1 red onion @$1.49/lb for 77 cents
  • 5 habanero peppers @$3.99/lb for 40 cents
  • 1 big red sweet pepper @$2.49/lb for $1.27
  • Special on Gia Russa brand angelhair pasta–a 2 lb. box for $2.29

Oh, Honeycrisp, my flavorful love! Must I sacrifice you on the altar of frugality?

“Wait!” you say. “That doesn’t add up to $25–in fact, it’s $33.89!” And you would be correct–but…this is how I looked at it. You have considerable leftovers: Three hot dogs to go–and their buns, spaghetti sauce with meat left for FIVE servings (freeze it or have a friend or two over), lots of puffed rice left, plenty of peanut butter, likewise crackers, no pasta left–I looooove pasta (hot mess and spaghetti sauce taste fine with rice, if you prefer it–how do pasta and rice prices compare these days?), chicken noodle soup, still had some habaneros. Those leftovers certainly are worth the $8.89 difference, aren’t they? If not, what do you cut and what does that do to your nutritional value? There are much cheaper hot dogs out there (Dave’s weekly flyer for Ohio City this week has five packages of one brand for $5–MUCH cheaper) but they may not be all beef or as tasty as Ball Park. There are cheaper peanut butters. Maybe you don’t need a big red sweet pepper (sniff!) in your salad, since you’re getting plenty of vitamins from all the tomatoes. You could up your fat intake but slightly reduce your costs with cheaper ground beef. You could forget apples and go with bananas all week. What would that bring things down to? I’ve got it to $27.50 now, still with leftover hotdogs and buns (or sometimes during the week you could eat two at a time), leftover peanut butter, crackers, spaghetti sauce, habaneros, puffed rice, and chicken noodle soup. But I’m still $2.50 over! This is where many families have to cut the fruit and vegetables, or go for canned rather than fresh–applesauce, anyone? With that adaptation, you can get to $25 and still have some leftover foods, but you’ve given up the tastiness and texture of fresh, as well as some vitamins.

You can't eat like a self-indulgent rabbit when you're on a budget. You must be selective.

Food prices are rising, and in some arenas much higher than others. Snacks? Forget those delicious potato chips or crunchy other things–at Lays 2 for $7 (WHAT! Boycott with me!), Dave’s makes them unreachable on a budget and outrageous for anyone. I say Dave’s, because you can get them for less elsewhere, but most of the responsibility lays with the Frito Lay company. Fresh fruits and vegetables are desirable, but a free hand with them makes budgeting difficult. While this budget works for a picky eater like me who loves her pasta, it’s hardly variety-packed, and it’s more suited to a dieting female than a male. Sigh. No perfection anywhere. But as the winter closes in, I’m not only going to see what the same amount of money can bring me at the West Side Market, I’m going to look at a variety of possibilities for breadmaking, batch making, looking at other world cuisines for hints about stretching a budget yet filling up. So, let’s keep learning something our immigrant great-grandmothers were all too familiar with.

As a footnote, there are some great specials, if you can get to Dave’s this week: 2 boxes of Bigelow tea for $5; two Pillsbury flaky Grand biscuits (in the cardboard rolls it’s so much fun to flack open, even though they warn against it) for $2.39 (half-price); Crystal Farms mozzarella slice were 50 cents off at $3.49; in-store bakery-made Kaiser rolls were two packages of 6 for a total of $2.79 (half-price); package of 7 Steak-Umms (don’t judge me!) for $4.69, a dollar off their usual price; and, best of all, Klondike bars on sale–two for $7. Even three Kellogg’s cereals for $10.

Sometimes boundaries nudge creativity

24 Oct

Oh, the candies of my youth in glorious array at B.A. Sweetie's!

Well, well, well. The biggest Halloween expenses used to be the candy–now decorations and costumes carve way into the wallet. While fun to drive by, is it as satisfying to just pick things up and fork over the dough? The Thrifty BonVivant says, “Not necessarily.” But first things first. Get candy that drives you back in time–you can buy nostalgic delicacies in quantity or just for a taste at the best standard candy store in Cleveland, B.A. Sweetie, at 7480 Brookpark Rd. Oh yes–get your Razzles (first it’s a candy, then it’s a gum!), poprocks, Zott’s–everything from candy dots to all Pez flavors to those wonderful flying saucers (only really beloved by Catholics, who find their waferlike exterior–they’re filled with little candy balls–carry Communion nostalgia). Once that buying spree is underway, it’s time to reduce expenses and unleash creativity.

Villefane is a master! Click his name in the text to see more.

Pumpkins? You know you don’t have to buy a host of plastic decorations if you have skills like Ray Villefane. Get yourself to a grocery and unleash your temporary, site-specific artist. Now, not everyone is a Ray Villefane. But surely you can put aluminum foil braces on a crooked pumpkin smile? Look at any cartoon in the newspaper and try to reproduce the simplified features (all right, don’t look at Rex Morgan, MD or Mary Worth) of the character–no matter what you end up with it will be distinctive, and the candle inside (a votive in a glass makes it simpler) will create the spooky effect effortlessly. Did you know the jack o’lantern tradition is an Irish one, but in the Olde Sod it was done with a parsnip? Carved bananas may be on the scene, but a hollowed out parsnip? Tricky. Be thankful for the pumpkin.

Is anything more frightening than a flying monkey?

Yard decorations? If no neighborhood child thoughtfully decorated your trees with a cobweb of toilet paper, consider quick stencils and chalk. A quick trip to Pat Catan‘s will find you inexpensive yet discounted sidewalk chalk that the rain will wash away soon…probably very soon. Skeletal feet walking to the front door? Black cats (or florescent orange ones) arching their backs along the sidewalk? Albino bats via soap on the storm door? There are images you can quickly print out, cut out, and fill in all over the Internet–you don’t have to buy stencils.

Thank you, John Tenniel, for one of my favorite costume inspirations!

Costumes? Ah, one of the joys of my youth. I was lucky enough to live near a man who worked in the marketing division of Borden’s, who had an unending supply of large light cardboard posters–Elsie the Cow may have been on the front, but flip her and…well, the possibilities were boundless. One of my favorite costumes was a gardener from Alice in Wonderland–tights, a hoodie, and a well-painted sandwich board, and I was a star. And all for free. See what’s in your wardrobe, and what some paper can do.

Avast! She was a pirate wench skull a few years back, when Johnny was freshly putting on his eyeliner

Paper? Did someone say papier-mache? There’s still time to make your own mask. It’s surprisingly easy–we learned how in jr. high. Get some light card and cut strips about 1.5 inches wide. Form a loose but overlapping oval from under your chin to the top of your head and staple it. Leave it in place, and arrange about three strips across your face (especially across the nose!), and staple them to the first loop. Then take it off, and add two vertical strips. To this network you’ll add torn strips of newspaper dragged through a flour and water paste of oatmeal consistency (not too soggy, mind). Build it up so you have a face, leaving open areas for the eyes. Start this today, and you’ll go at an easy pace. Basic mask one night, let it dry the next day, and you’ll be ready to lay down a base coat of color. Use acrylic paint–Pat Catan’s has a cheapo small kit that will work just fine. The following night, additional color, and some elastic stapled across the back to hold it in place. I had fun with a flowering Day of the Dead mask–a quick but memorable (and easy) piece that was lots of fun, with just a base white acrylic coat and some Sharpie work–hey, the old hoodie and tights (or sweat pants) still works! The Huffington Post has suggestions for ten literary characters–but you may need to pin a footnote onto your back.

Need some last-minute inspiration? Go to Gordon Square in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood this weekend–the annual Dias de los Muertos exhibit and parade opens at the Cleveland Public Theatre East Campus (the old church) on 6205 Detroit Ave. There’s a great Day of the Dead celebration, with a parade at 3:30 pm and exhibits of altars, paintings, masks, pan de muerto (skulltastic bread), performances and more from 11 am to 10 pm. I’ve been to others–great fun. There’s nothing like Dia de los Muertos, the Latin celebration meant for All Souls Day, when skeletons come alive, dancing and carrying on.

Impressive results, but simple carries it off graphically

Can’t be bothered to make a costume or mask, but want to be a thrifty standout? If you have some time before your party or before you send a little one out, make a minor expenditure for major impact: face/body painting. It takes care, but not as much skill as you might think. Just don’t assume you can’t do it. Not free–you have to buy some theatrical makeup, but it’s not usually too costly. You can get it in Cleveland at Erie Street Theatrical Svc at 1621 E 41st St, in Strongsville at Cleveland Costume and Display at18489 Pearl Rd, and in a number of other spots in the Yellow Pages–or get a kit of very basic colors at Pat Catan’s or Michael’s Crafts. There are some great tutorials online, like this simple but effective one for a child pumpkin ghoul http://dearcrissy.com/halloween-face-painting-tutorial/

I id a similar one in a theatrical makeup class--just a few colors is all it takes.

Felines can be surprisingly effective, as can abstract designs–here are 30 great examples of face painting. You may get so very involved in it that you chuck your day job and become an artist specializing in body art and the subsequent photography. So use Halloween to experiment a little! What could be more Bon Vivant-like? Just be careful where you sit.

For your...ummm...adult Halloween parties

Adapting Great Depression Christmas Customs to the New Depression

8 Oct

Chicago ad from the Depression

My parents grew up on opposite sides of the Monongahela River outside of Pittsburgh during the Great Depression. Neither of their families had much money, but one had a house and land, the other an apartment. One had lots of kids, the other just two, a widowed mom, and a grandmother. My Mom was the townie, and remembers having a tree in a box at first, then agitating for a real–albeit small–tree. My Dad was in a quasi-rural area with “hollers,” and they’d go and cut a tree from their property. It’s from him we heard stories of one orange a year (he wasn’t alone; such stories abound–how many requests today with produce memories like these?) and the excitement of a handful of nuts and a special cheese. My Mom got presents–games, then clothes. She said she used to shop at the 5 and 10 (ah, the progenitor of the dollar store, but more fun), but graduated to a real store. In those days the store lured in customers with a coupon book and a lottery aspect. Each week a customer would pay a sum–say a dollar–and at the end of the saving period (five weeks? three months? she isn’t sure) they’d have a lump sum to spend ($30?), save from the grubby hands of little brothers or greedy husbands. Each week the store would draw one ticket, and that customer would have a shortcut to the lump–maybe you were only two dollars into your saving, but you’d get the full thirty dollars nonetheless. If you didn’t do that, you had layaway! Stockings were hung, paper chains in varied colors festooned the tree, Midnight Mass was really at midnight. And if you were lucky enough to be Greek or Russian Orthodox, with a later Christmas date, you could pluck your tree (perhaps with slightly fewer needles) from the sidewalk where the trashmen were due to pick it up. One of the best parts of Christmas in town was visits by relatives and friends, all

Horace Pippin's "Christmas Morning Breakfast" 1945

marked with special foods you didn’t have the rest of the year.

These days, depending where you live, fresh trees may be hard to find or not too economical, but nothing beats their smell and the fun of decorating them. In my day, we had everything our little hearts desired–we were circling potential gifts in the Sears catalogue and elsewhere once Thanksgiving hit. My sister, a planner, partook in the Christmas Club at the bank, socking away $5 or $10 or $20 a week into a special account–but the bank didn’t pluck an account a week and reward the lump sum in advance. There were plenty of special foods and cookie baking and visitors, and it’s still the only time of year we get nuts in the shell and have the cracker and picks handy.

This isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia. Part of it is about making Christmas and other holidays less about Martha Stewart and new purchases, and more about creating an atmosphere that reinforces specialness–in terms of religion, of family, of season. The creation of memories doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s also a thumbs down to gift certificates (except in case of emergencies) and thumbs up to thinking of those you love and searching for just the right item that will bring that look of pleasure to their face.

1955 Spiegel catalogue Christmas decorations

Hey, I’m not trying to match the stores by rushing Christmas. I mention it now because I have a personal challenge ahead. One of my generation in the family has asked for us to hold our giving to each other at $25 per person (parents are the exception, and they don’t know about it). This won’t be easy; we have always liked an overboard Christmas, just for the sheer fun and spectacle of it. But the reasoning behind it can be appreciated (if not shared!), and my challenge begins–how do I not only hold each person at $25, but still have a plethora of things they’ll love to unwrap. Not one nice gift–oh, no. There must be many! I believe I can do it, but it will take passion, a hunter’s training, and a keen eye. No children are involved, just two adult women (easy) and two men (difficult). Let the games begin! For this kind of operation does not allow for the last minute–no, it takes a careful plan of attack.

If you’re trying to hold your spending this year, join me on this adventure and be aware of the free. We’ll continue to revisit this subject, but right now I urge you to look over your credit cards. Do you have any, as I do, that have credits toward gifts? Citibank, for example, has such a program. Some of the gifts are great–but you have to cash in your points this month if the gifts are to arrive in time. Going to make things (yes!)? Then you’d best get busy. Gears must start turning, cranks cranking. I don’t believe in holidays making one nuts–rather, I believe in eating nuts on holidays. We need not be extremists, going into debt or selling our hair like an O. Henry character. The Bon Vivant wants everyone to be happy, and for Christmas to signify an excess of joy. Nobody during the Great Depression spoke of holiday stress and duress–it was a beacon to remind everyone of the precious, and of possibility. Part of my problem is that I was loathe to realize that prices were rising and my salary wasn’t keeping pace; I hadn’t grown up to expect that I wouldn’t be able to afford the expectations of my social class. Well, well, well. There’s an easy solution to that: adjust your expectations for material goods, expand them for rewards for the mind, the eyes, the heart, the spirit.

A great thrifty adventure–our zoo

7 Oct

Great touches of color in the zoo plantings

The Bon Vivant spent an enjoyable day at the Cleveland Zoo today, and urges you to visit this coming Monday. Why? Partially because the beautiful weather is predicted to continue, but also because on Monday the zoo is FREE to residents of Cuyahoga County and Hinckley (what did Hinckley do to get this privilege)–you’re expected to prove your residency.  How can you beat that? The zoo is normally $11 for adults, $8 for kids 2-11 (though from Nov. 1 through March 31st, it’s $8 and $5 respectively), and is open from 10-5. On FREE MONDAYS, the only charge is for the Rainforest, but it’s only $5, with kids 2-11 at $3. Oh, you can’t beat free–parking is free, too, as is the shuttle that takes you up the long and winding hill to primates, cats and fishies.

This is a gorgeous time at the zoo. In the summer, the heat may prove exhausting. Though it was warm today (with plenty of glare–bring sunglasses), the shade was blissful. They have fabulous landscapers, and the just-turning foliage is contrasted with gorgeous flowers and the oddly intriguing sight of trifoliate oranges. There are youthful (if no longer babies)

Some did not feel like Bon Vivants

rhino, giraffe and other offspring–irresistible. The elephants have returned in a new, freer environment, and you can be about a foot away (admittedly behind glass) from them, noting their need for moisturizer. Today babies in strollers were out in full force, as were busloads of schoolkids (some of whom needed their own cages); a pleasure to note their big eyes (we shall not mention their whining and furious temper tantrums). A pleasure too to see solicitous daughters with aged mothers, exchanging smiles and observations, and those in scooters zipping up the hills.

Interestingly enough, there were no enquiries heard regarding elephantine proportions

Now, sad to say, the Thrifty Bon Vivant was not so thrifty–not just because she didn’t go on the free day, but because she took a cab. In the summer, a bus goes right to the entrance. And–far worse shame–she was not prepared with a Bon Vivant lunch. By all rights, a picnic lunch would have been just the ticket, and the zoo allows coolers and picnic baskets, and has plenty of seating. Not wanting to be weighed down not only limited dining options (I could have had a jerk chicken sandwich, dried peaches, dill pickle flavored potato chips!), but racked up the dollars. Aramark is the food service company that works the zoo–while there may be a Pizza Hut, a McDonald’s etc., things are under the Aramark umbrella. A small iced tea? $2.25–a far cry from my usual delicious and hefty serving that costs 2 cents. A personal cheese pizza at Pizza Hut Express was $4.50, a very small popcorn $3. Milk and water both were over $2 each–imagine a family of four. And that walking and the deliciously fresh air do build an appetite! So I recommend taking your drinks and snacks–if you have to buy, let it be something you can’t make at home, like cotton candy or a snow cone (and drat–I saw neither today! I’m guessing because we are post-season).

One of a number of frolicking lemurs from Madagascar

Drawing and photographing with only the iPad was great, and a conversation starter as well. Aside from the thrift, your Bon Vivant found the experience totally relaxing–many a bench to watch the world go by, the pleasure of nature from faraway brought near, even contemplation of our own place within our world raising a little philosophical musing. And it fit with the current self-challenge and master plan–I did a good four hours walking (albeit at a tortoise pace), got some vitamin D, and had a fine time as a part of the human race–as well as a bipedal mammal with opposable thumbs. You go on a free Monday–this upcoming one–pack a delicious lunch or snack, and revel in your thrifty and rewarding outing!

If you’re feeling in the mood for a mammalian/fish fix, a small album is on my Facebook page