Monday, November 30, 2009

Banana Bread

Just because you're pinching pennies doesn't mean you have to scrimp on Christmas gifts.

The key? Exchange money for time. This week I'm highlighting three Christmas gifts you can make in your kitchen in mere minutes, for mere pennies.

First up: banana bread.

Until I tried this recipe, I was never a huge fan of banana bread. I could take it or leave it. But this recipe is not only easy, it's maybe the best quick bread I've ever tasted. With some colored plastic wrap and ribbon, you've got a thoughtful, tasty gift.

And bonus: the leftover batter is all yours, and it's almost as good as the bread itself.

Banana Bread
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 bananas, mashed well
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one loaf pan.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk mashed bananas, melted butter, eggs, yogurt and vanilla. Gently fold banana mixture into flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined. Batter will be thick.

Scrape batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out nearly clean, 55 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking.

Let cool 1 hour before serving.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thrifty Under Fifty will return on Monday. Until then, be sure to use up all of your turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie -- or just send them my way ...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cheese Thimbles in Four Flavors

Item: Hannahbells cheese thimbles

Price: $7.50 for 13 cheeses (about 3 ounces)

Where to Buy: Shy Brothers Farm

Review: A thimble of cheese: it sounds like an ingredient from a fairy tale.

These thimbles, however, come from a Massachusetts dairy farm. Shy Brothers Farm call them Hannahbells; the French, they say, call them "boutons de coulottes," or "trouser buttons."

Whatever you call them, they look delicious. Hannahbells are available in four flavors: classic French, shallot, rosemary and lavender bud. In addition to the small order of 13 cheeses of the same flavor, they also can be purchased in a sampler pack of 40 cheeses for $20.

I'd skip the crackers with this cheese and pop these thimbles plain.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Have a DVR? Cancel Netflix.

I don't have Netflix.

But I do have at least a half dozen movies ready to watch at all times ... all at the press of a button.

Once every week or two I browse the movie channels that come with my cable plan-- AMC, TCM and IFC are usually the best, but even Comedy Central and the Disney Channel play some good flicks once in awhile. Then I DVR anything and everything that looks interesting.

Then when I'm in the mood for a movie, or my husband and I want to kick back on the weekends, we always have a large selection no matter what our mood.

The selection of movies is surprisingly large on these channels. Admittedly, you're not going to find many recently released selections like you would on HBO and Showtime, but you'll greatly increase your knowledge of classic movies. Jack Lemmon has become one of my favorite actors of all time because of my propensity to record his movies, and I'm slowly making my way through all of Woody Allen's works.

So cancel your Netflix subscription. Spend your extra cash on popcorn instead.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Get a Head Start on Christmas Baked Goods

Christmas is less than six weeks away, and it's only going to get busier from here.

Trimming the tree. Buying the presents. Baking the cookies.

But wait: You can get the cookies done now! Many recipes include instructions for freezing the dough and baking them weeks later. I've made chocolate chip cookies and popped them in the oven six weeks later, and they taste just as fresh as if I had just stirred the dough.

Planning to give homemade treats as gifts? Make them now, and bake them later!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Does Anyone Pick Up Pennies Anymore?

A penny doesn't buy much these days, and it shows.

It seems that most people (including me) won't even stoop to pick up a penny. If I had a penny for every penny I saw on the sidewalk or on the stairs, I'd be a ... well I'd be at least a centanaire.

Silver coins obviously are more popular. I rarely see nickels, dimes or quarters lying about.

And dollar bills? A rare bread, but not unheard of.

I'll slow down for anything with a green or silver glint, but I leave the copper for toddlers and their piggy banks. What about you?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Rubber Bands That Are Doggone Cute

Item: Animal Rubber Bands

Price: $4.95 (24 rubber bands)

Where to Buy:

Review: An office supply that's practical and cute at the same time?

These animal rubber bands are molded into the shape of dogs, cats, pigs, ducks, rabbits and turtles. Stretch them out and they look like a normal, albeit colorful, rubber band. Take them off your item and they revert to their natural animal shape.

How can you resist that?

Best yet, the purchase of these animal rubber bands is sure to help the environment at least a bit. Who's going to toss a rubber band in the shape of a kitty into the landfill?

Additional themed rubber band packs: basic shapes, zoo animals, and -- get this -- underwear.

Image from:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Do-It-Yourself Extra Long Shower Curtain Liner

I measured the windows, I measured the walls.

Before we moved to a new place 500 miles away, I measured nearly everything-- except the distance from the shower rod to the base of the tub.

A shower curtain liner certainly qualifies as one of those things you need on your first day in a new apartment. So I went to the store and took my chances. I bought a new shower curtain liner of the standard length.

Unfortunately, it was about three inches two short. Water from the shower blew the bottom of the liner up over the tub, soaking the bathroom floor.

My solution? A clear plastic tablecloth from the nearest dollar store.

The tablecloth was about a foot too long, but I simply folded over the top until the "liner" was of the desired length, and then I poked holes at the top for the hooks. Voila! An extra long shower curtain liner that's less than 2 bucks -- and is easily replaceable.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Book Review: "Cheap"

Item: "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture," by Ellen Ruppel Shell

Price: $14.01

Where to Buy: Amazon

Review: Someone's paying for it, even if you're not.

That's the main idea behind "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture," a new book by Ellen Ruppel Shell.

Shell admits right off the bat that she's a bargain hunter. The problem, she says, is what we consider bargains may actually be hurting the environment, our expectations and employees around the world.

By now, most people understand the difference between between cheap and being frugal. The former looks only at price. The latter also considers quality. Shell uses examples like Ikea and outlet stores to show how looking nearly exclusively at price tags can dilute brands and affect buying habits.

But whether you label yourself cheap, frugal or just plain thrifty, do what I did if you want to read this book. Get it at the library.