Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: Betty Crocker Warm Delights Minis

Item: Warm Delights Minis: Molten Chocolate Cake

Price: about $2.50 for two 1.23 ounce bowls

Where to Buy: Any grocery store.

Review: I'm cheap, so instant desserts don't usually find their way into my shopping cart. But I found out that Betty Crocker was sending free samples of the Warm Delights Minis to anyone who signed up for the email newsletter (sorry- the promotion's over). I got mine in the mail just a week or two later.

I peeled open the box hoping that my sample would be of the Molten Chocolate Cake. Success! Like a Russian nesting doll, the box contained yet another box which contained nearly everything you need: the bowl, the cake mix and a fudge pouch.

The preparation was even easier than I expected: stir the cake mix with 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of water. Squeeze the fudge on top. Cook in the microwave for 30 seconds. Voila.



Unfortunately, I think the name of the cake is a misnomer. I suppose you could call the lines of fudge on top of the cake "molten," but it certainly was no chocolate volcano. In addition, the cake had a light, airy flavor that reminded me of gingerbread.

Overall, I was hoping for a richer chocolate flavor, but at 150 calories I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I was.

For me, the price was right: free. But even if I didn't want to go to the trouble of making a homemade dessert, a boxed brownie mix would be just as cheap as the regular price of the Warm Delights and taste infinitely better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Charming Danforth Pewter Buttons

Item: Danforth Pewter Buttons and Charms

Price: $3

Where to Buy: Danforth Pewter

Review: The Danforth Pewter button display a saw at a small shop in Burlington, Vermont, almost made me what to rip out all of the buttons in my spring jacket and replace them with these bright and shiny alternatives.

And at $3 apiece, it would have been completely reasonable to do so.

Many of the buttons were a little too, well, cute for my tastes. However, I absolutely loved the simple, classic designs on the round buttons the company offers.

In Burlington I was content with buying a Danforth Pewter charm to turn into a necklace. But when I decide my coat needs a makeover, I know where to turn.

Image from: Danforth Pewter

Monday, July 27, 2009

A New Way to Save on Gas?

We've all heard of those crazy drivers who will tack on an extra 20 miles to their commute in order to save a penny per gallon of gas. Do you think they even realize that they're guzzling their savings away with the extra mileage?

But I recently came across a way to save a few pennies on gas the requires no extra driving. How? By putting away the plastic and pulling out the cold, hard cash.

My husband had already inserted our credit card and started pumping the gas at a Shell station on the outskirts of Detroit when I noticed an offer I'd never before seen. Pay by credit card and gas was $2.91 a gallon. Use cash and it was six cents cheaper.

It was too late for us that time, but I'll be keeping my eye out for this in the future. Has anyone else noticed this offer before?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Same Name = Saved Money

Have you heard of the Kelly Hildebrandt's? They're the couple with the exact same name who met on Facebook and are now engaged.

It must say something about me (although what, I'm not exactly sure) that one of my very first thoughts was how convenient it will be for female Kelly to keep her name without going through the hassles of either:
  • explaining why she chose to keep her maiden name or
  • going through the hassle of changing her driver's license, passport, credit cards, bank account, etc.
Six years ago I chose the latter, and I still don't have everything changed. My husband and I bought a house about two months before our wedding, and the mortgage is still under my maiden name.

I declined to pay the fee to change the mortgage statements, but I ponied up the cash for the driver's license. Did I really have a choice?

Yes, I suppose. I could've kept my maiden name. Luckily for Kelly Hildebrandt, that's one decision she doesn't have to make.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free Outdoor Movies Under the Stars

A movie under the stars. What more could you ask for?

Stars, for one. And maybe a more comfortable seat. But other than that, free outdoor movie screenings are just about perfect.

I dragged my husband to my first New York City free movie screening last week. It was my birthday, and he couldn't say no. We got to Hudson River Park's Pier 54 at about 6:30 p.m., two hours before the scheduled start of "Vicky Christina Barcelona." We had no problem finding a spot up front for our blanket and picnic supper. It wasn't long, however, before the majority of the pier was packed with Woody Allen-loving bargain hunters.

New York offers many free outdoor movie spots. The most well-known is probably the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival on Monday nights, but lists a slew of others.

I didn't look up into the sky after the movie started, but I suspect the only stars you'll see are on the big screen. Not quite the meaning of a movie under the stars, but it'll have to do.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Sundae Every Monday from Ben & Jerry's

I didn't understand the appeal of Ben & Jerry's until I visited the factory in Vermont in February. One taste there and I was hooked.

If you feel the same, now you can get your fix for half price. Find a friend, print this coupon and visit a Ben & Jerry's scoop shop any Monday through Aug. 31 for buy-one-get-one-free sundaes. Now that's a sweet Monday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Passport Photos from the Comfort of Your Home

Several weeks ago I wrote about shooting, cropping and submitting my own passport photos instead of opting for the overpriced pictures taken at drugstores.

The results? A-OK.

My husband and I each received our renewed passports in the mail last week, no questions asked. The best part: We actually like these passport photos.

Whether you're applying for your first passport or a renewal, I highly recommend using ePassportPhoto to help make sure the photos you take meet federal regulations. Free and easy to use-- it doesn't get much better than that.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Free Restaurant Giveaways for Your Birthday

Make a happy birthday happier with free food from your favorite restaurants.

My 28th birthday is today, but I've received coupons and birthday deals for more than two weeks. I won't be using them all-- a couple are from restaurants that aren't even located in New York City, where I now live. But don't be surprised if you find me in an ice cream shop or two with a coupon in my hand this month.

Getting free birthday food is easy. Just go to the website of your favorite restaurants and sign up for the e-newsletter. If the registration asks for your birthday, that's a good sign. Some of the websites even specifically state that you'll get a birthday surprise.

Here's the offers I've received so far. I'll be updating this list as I learn about and sign up for more. What free birthday food have you received? giveaway

Cold Stone Creamery: free Cold Stone Creation, coupon good for two weeks

Baskin-Robbins: free 2.5 ounce scoop, coupon good for 10 days

Panera Bread: free mini-bundt cake, coupon good for one month

BD's Mongolian Barbeque
: free stir fry meal, coupon good for two weeks

Monday, July 13, 2009

FREE Mocha Mondays at McDonald's

I don't like coffee. I visit Starbucks purely for the pastries.

But for those who can't get going without a morning (or an afternoon or an evening) jolt of caffeine, here's a deal for you.

Participating McDonald's restaurants are distributing FREE 7-ounce iced mochas and 8-ounce hot mochas from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Monday, beginning today, through Aug. 3.

McDonald's estimates it will give out 10 million samples, so go get your share.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Like Tea, Only Boozier

Item: Cocktail Infusions

Price: $12 for eight

Where to Buy: Tea Forte

Review: If you're more than a year or two out of college, you're probably tired of mixing vodka with 7-Up. But if you're clueless when it comes to mixed drinks, it may be difficult to find a grown-up beverage you can easily make at home.

With these cocktail infusors, all you need is a little liquor and one or two other common ingredients and you've got the makings of a sophisticated party. Well, at least it's more sophisticated than a 12-pack of PBR.

The infusers come in three flavors: Lavender Citrus, Lemongrass Mint and Silkroad Chai. Each purchase comes with a recipe book. Cheers!

Image from: Tea Forte

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What Do You Splurge On?

Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies.

My cupboard is nearly always stocked, but to my credit, I'm a smart splurger. I have six packages (one opened) purchased weeks ago when they were on sale.

Even the thriftiest among us have a downfall. My big three are cookies, cupcakes and trips. I would (irrationally) rather spend $500 on plane tickets than $5 for a lunchtime value meal.

My husband is considered thrifty by all but me, so I can't complain ... too loudly. I think he splurges on Starbucks, but that's only because I can't stand the smell or taste of coffee. But still-- isn't it possible to get out the French press on weekdays once in awhile?

What's your splurge?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Renegade Craft Fair: Indie Art at Hard-to-Beat Prices

I heard about the Brooklyn stop of the Renegade Craft Fair completely by chance, through a small notice on the New York Times online. But it didn't take long to decide that I would attend.

It took a bit longer to convince my husband to accompany me. But he had almost as much fun perusing the witty t-shirts as I did combing through the jewelry, bags and clothing.

The Renegade Craft Fair brings together "indie crafters"-- more than 300 at the Brooklyn event -- for a one-stop-shop of all things homemade.

And happily, visitors on a budget have plenty to choose from. I picked up a necklace for $15 and could easily have spent 10x that and left McCarren Park with a full bag of loot. I hope to feature on this site some of the unique items I saw for sale, but until then you can read about my experience at the Brooklyn Renegade Craft Fair.

I'll certainly be at the 2010 fair, and I only wish I could attend the upcoming Renegade Craft Fairs yet this year:

Los Angeles
California Market Center
July 11-12

San Francisco
Fort Mason's Festival Pavilion
July 18-19

Division Street between Damen & Hermitage
Sept. 12-13

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dish Towels That Make a "State"ment

Item: Each State Dish Towel

Price: $18

Where to Buy: C.S. Post & Co.

Review: Want your state to clean up its act? How about starting with your kitchen counter.

These old-fashioned dish towels feature the most popular attractions, people and cities of whatever state you choose. You can see the designs at the C.S. Post site before you buy. Ohio's dish towel is a pretty good representation: the presidents, Cedar Point, Ohio State and even Ohio University among a myriad of other drawings. The Columbus Blue Jackets even get their due.

New York's dish towel is focused mostly on the city, which isn't a huge surprise. But c'mon. You couldn't include Niagara Falls? Or for that matter, the Mets?

I'm not sure I'd spend upwards of a grand for a full set. In any case, some of the states aren't available (sorry, Alaska, Delaware, and a handful of others). But whether you're homesick or a new homeowner, these dish towels are one way you can literally get the dirt on your favorite state.

Image from: C.S. Post & Co.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Financial TV Personalities Annoy Me

I've watched an entire episode of the Suze Orman Show exactly zero times. I've seen bits and pieces here and there, but my closest contact has been the skits lampooning her on Saturday Night Live.

Yet I find her fascinating, and I can't help but agree with her main message-- don't spend more than you have. Who can argue with that?

But so many people seem to forget that Orman is a TV personality and provides just as much (more?) entertainment as actual service. In fact, a recent article about Orman in the New York Times Magazine basically says that Orman's books and anecdotes seem to be much more positive and uplifting than facts would suggest.

Jon Stewart was lauded for striking a blow against financial punditry when he confronted Mad's Money's Jim Cramer on The Daily Show earlier this year. I'll admit I cheered along. Yet I've watched Cramer's show and have even read a couple of his books, and he provides some good tips and advice.

But if you're fooled into thinking he's much more than a carnie hocking the next "can't-lose" game in the business, than maybe, just maybe, you're asking to be fooled.