Living well on a budget, without being truly cheap.

Food Review: Kirkland Signature Kettle Brand Krinkle Cut Himalayan Salt Potato Chips

By Mike Thayer

Kettle ChipsChips, perhaps America's favorite snack food....  Walk into just about any grocery store and they have an isle dedicated to them, classic potato chips, flavored chips, wavy chips, corn chips, tortilla chips, other kinds of veggie chips and more.

Today, I'm sampling some kettle chips, the Kirkland Signature Kettle brand, a krinkle cut style with Himalayan salt.

If you don't know what the difference is between a classic chip and a kettle chip (besides appearance, texture and taste), classic, a.k.a. 'regular' chips are made on a conveyor belt through a process called continuous fry. In this method, potatoes move through hot oil on a conveyor belt.  The result is a thinner, more uniform looking chip.  Kettle chips are prepared with a process called batch cooking.  Potatoes are literally dumped into an oil-filled kettle and stirred until done, resulting in thicker, not-so-uniform, sometimes folded over, chip.  Kettle chips provide a more robust crunch than 'regular' chips.

Onto the tasting....

Kettle Chips 2These Kettle chips provide a good kettle chip crunch without being too greasy.  The krinkle cut style handles dip well (I did a classic sour cream and onion) without breakage.  I chose this particular bag of chips because I hadn't sampled a pink salt variety yet and I have to say that these chips come off as being a bit bland, even for a regular chip (no flavors added).  The pink salt doesn't seem to carry the same salty flavor burst as traditionally salted chips.  They were a bit on the boring side and that chip dip was needed.

The two pound bag of chips cost me $4.89 at Costco.  I'm giving the Kirkland Signature Kettle Brand Krinkle Cut Himalayan Salt chips 3 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  You get the kettle crunch, they're good for dipping, but on their own they're bland.  These chips are NOT a repeat buy.

3 stars


Food Review: Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowl, Meat Lovers

By Mike Thayer

Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowl Meat LoversBreakfast kick starts your day, providing your body the fuel it needs to drive through the day. But it's important to eat right whether you're on a diet or not.

I suggest eating at home if you can. Not only will you save a few bucks, you'll save on some calories and believe it or not, time as well.

I am a huge fan of Jimmy Dean Breakfast sandwiches, they're inexpensive, convenient and tasty!  But today I'm trying another Jimmy Dean product, a 'Breakfast Bowl.'  I'm sampling the 'Meat Lovers' variety which is a seven ounce helping of potatoes, sausage, cage free eggs, cheddar cheese and bacon.

Prepared in the microwave per the package instructions, I was ready to eat in about 4 minutes, how's that for convenience?  Faster than cooking something up on your own and no waiting in line at a fast food drive-thru.

"But how does it taste?" you ask....

Have faith, I state that based on how good Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches are.

Jimmy Dean Breakfast BowlMy first fork full was a blast of that great tasting Jimmy Dean sausage and this breakfast bowl is loaded with it.  The eggs are fluffy, the potatoes are fluffy-tender, the crumbled bacon is a nice compliment and the buttery notes of the cheddar cheese ties everything together.  All ingredients were seasoned well throughout, this is a nicely balanced breakfast blend of quality ingredients.

A new product offering at Costco, a box of eight breakfast bowls cost me just $9.49 after an instant rebate at the register.  I should have bought TWO boxes, that's a ridiculous price at just $1.19 a bowl!

Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowls - Meat Lovers - gets 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  It's definitely priced right (even at the regular price of $13.99 for a box of eight it's going to be just $1.75 a bowl), it's convenient as heck and most importantly, it's tasty, tasty, tasty!

5 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends.....


Food Review: Kirkland Brats

By Mike Thayer

Kirkland BratsThe bratwurst - more affectionately known as 'brats' by those who love these sausage treats - is a popular offering at summer cookouts and at baseball stadiums, especially in the Midwest.

That's what I'm into today, some brats!  I've tried pretty much all of them, Johnsonville, local butcher, various grocery store brands and today, I'm grilling up some brats made by Kirkland, the store brand of Costco.

As tasty as these things are, I'm actually kind of surprised that brats aren't more popular in restaurants, specifically burger and hot dog joints.  I'll take a juicy brat fresh off the grill over a burger or dawg just about any day of the week.  When brats are done right, you don't even need a bun, that's how good they are!

I've grilled brats for family, friends, at parties, at company functions.  I've prepared brats with beer, wine, my own secret parboil recipe and I've smoked them over a variety of woods.

Today's preparation is putting the brats in the smoker over pecan wood.  This is my favorite preparation and there's no parboiling required, this preparation is that good.  Beer brats are good, wine brats are better, but smoked brats.....  Smoked brats my friends, is THE best way to have them and pecan wood is a perfect pairing! 

I've used this particular preparation using the various brands of brats and Kirkland comes out on top.  They're better than Johnsonville, they're better than the local butcher shop, they're better than the typical grocery store brand.  In my book, the Kirkland recipe is the best of all I've sampled.

Perfectly smoked brats...

With each bite you get the perfect snap of that casing, the juiciness, that perfect blend of spices and that hint of smoke complimenting it all.

Not only does Kirkland have the better recipe, they make bigger links.  These are quarter pounders, that's 4 ounces each in case you didn't want to do the math.  Most other brands weigh in between 3.2 and 3.8 ounces per link.  That may not sound like much of a difference but it's actually quite noticeable when you put the final product on the bun.  Lesser brands also have more shrinkage and casings that more easily split during the cooking process. 

Costing just under $17 for 14 links, or $1.21 each, Kirkland brats cost a bit more than other brands.  In comparison, a package of Johnsonville brats typically run about $4.99 for 5 links, or $1 each, but you're getting an inferior product.  The Kirkland's are worth the slightly higher price, in each and every bite. 

I'm giving Kirkland brats 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  There may be a better brat out there, but I haven't found it yet.

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

Pizza Review: Bob & Luigi's Pizza - Bel Aire

By Mike Thayer

Pizza for lunch!

Touted as the area's best kept secret and in the mood for pizza, I decided to head to Bob & Luigi's Pizza in Bel Aire today to satisfy my craving.  I've never had a pizza from this joint, so I was looking forward to seeing if this place lived up to the hype. 

Located on 45th & Woodlawn, Bob & Luigi's is a classic, family style pizza parlor with an open, casual atmosphere.    I arrived at about 11:40am so it was a bit early to get that pizza parlor whiff when you first walk in the door - who doesn't love that smell, right? - but the place was looking clean, comfortable and seeing smiles on employee faces, well, this looked like my kind of place.  There was a customer ahead of me placing his order, which gave me time to consider just what kind of pizza I was in the mood for.

I went with one of their specialty pizzas The Luigi, which is topped with beef, sausage, Italian sausage, pepperoni, ham, black olive, mushroom, bell pepper and onion.  I paid for my carry out pizza and a soda, then found a seat and started reviewing the menu in greater detail to pass the time.   In addition to pizza, Bob & Luigi's has pasta, sandwiches, appetizers and calzones, to include dessert calzones which sound FABULOUS!  I SO have to get one next time I visit.....   Yes, that's an indicator of how good the pizza is.....

A member of the staff delivered my carry out pizza to my table in about 20 minutes, the pie piping hot and smelling fantastic!  The drive home was a struggle!  I SO wanted to grab a slice and truly eat "to go"....  But I resisted.  I had to roll down the windows to dispel that fantastic aroma and reduce temptation.

Pizza bob and luigisJust look at that beautiful pizza, it's baked to perfection, golden, brown, delicious and is that a more than generous portion of cheese or what?  I can see why The Luigi is such a popular pie.  LOADED with toppings the pie is a good balance of meat, veggies and cheese bedded on an airy crust.  You get the subtle spice of the pepperoni and sausage, the tender-crisp crunch of the onion and pepper and OH that gooey goodness of the melted mozzarella cheese tied everything together.   If there's anything to knock on this pizza though, is it was bit under-sauced.  I didn't get the zesty tomato marriage with those great toppings I was looking for.  There wasn't enough sauce and the sauce itself was missing some garlic and oregano notes.

Having three slices for lunch, I've got plenty leftover for dinner and yes, in classic bachelor fashion, I'll be having pizza for breakfast too.  This was a very satisfying pizza and worth the trip to Bel Aire, even from south Wichita.

The large pie and drink costing me about $21, Bob & Luigi's Pizza gets 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  It's good pizza, reasonably priced and worthy of a repeat buy. 

Pizza toppings4 stars

Bob & Luigi's Pizza

4559 N Woodlawn St
Bel Aire, Kansas 67220
PH: 316-744-9510




Cereal Battle Part 3: Wheaties vs. other wheat cereals

By Mike Thayer

I always have some kind of cereal on hand.  Sometimes it's for breakfast, sometimes with a little fruit and a heavy dose of cream, it makes for an impromptu dessert.  And although Captain Crunch with Crunch Berries is my all time favorite cereal, that's not what I typically have on hand.  My pantry is routinely stocked with corn flakes, toasted oats or bran flakes. 

Do you pay the premium price for the name brand?

If you do, you might think twice about doing so after reading this article.

CerealI've done reviews on corn flakes and toasted oats cereals, today I'm doing a similar review of wheat flake cereals.  In conducting this 'Cereal Battle, Part 3', I purchased THE name brand, General Mills Wheaties; a store brand version, in this case Kroger; and a discount brand called Millville, a.k.a., Aldi.

I compared price, weight, the look, taste (both dry and w/milk) and the 'sogginess' factor.

Cereal #1, the name brand - General Mills Wheaties:

According to the General Mills website, Wheaties was created in 1922, as a result of an accidental spill of a wheat bran mixture onto a hot stove by a Minnesota clinician working for the Washburn Crosby Company (later General Mills).  It's an iconic cereal, a box of Wheaties has been a staple in millions of American homes - especially the homes of young, sports minded kids - for decades.   Sometimes the allure of what mega-star sports figure adorned the box was enough to buy it.  I know I did when Walter Payton was featured and those empty boxes are worth something nowadays.  If you look on ebay, Walter Payton Wheaties boxes are selling for up to $35 each!  It's a better seller than Olympic star Mary Lou Retton.  And of course, who isn't familiar with one of the greatest food taglines of all time:  "The breakfast of Champions"   

Cereal 2Price:  $4.47 for 15.6 ounces of cereal

That price for a box of Wheaties is on the high end of pretty much every other kind of cereal on the grocery store shelf, it's not THE highest, but it's up there.  If you read the first cereal battle, Kellogg's Corn Flakes came in at $3.39 and in the second battle, Cheerios was priced at $2.79, on the low end of the spectrum in comparison of name brands.   Also noted in that first battle, was how much taller the Kellogg's Corn Flakes box was even though the weight of the cereal was the same as for the store and discount brands.   In a side-by-side-by side comparison, all three boxes of wheat bran cereal are approximately the same.  It's an old school marketing gimmick and General Mills doesn't seem to be playing it with box size.   General Mills, using the same size box as Kroger, just flat out puts a lower amount of flakes in their box.  Priced at $4.47 for the box, that comes out to 28.6¢ per ounce.

For the look, taste (both dry and w/milk) and the sogginess factor, I'll summarize all three cereals in a bit.

Cereal #2, store brand - Kroger:

Price:  $2.29 for 18 ounces of cereal

Look how much cheaper the store brand is, a savings of $2.18.  That's 12.7 cents an ounce for the store brand vs. 28.6 cents per ounce for the name brand.    A box of Wheaties is more than twice the price for a box of Kroger Bran Flakes AND you get more cereal in the same sized box.

Cereal #3, discount brand - Millville, a.k.a., Aldi:

Price:  $2.29 for 18 ounces of cereal

Cereal 3This is priced the same as for Kroger's knock off of Wheaties and it's the same volume of cereal.   To note, Millville put their 18 ounces of cereal in a bigger box.  Why, I can't say, because the Millville brand is pretty much the only brand of cereal Aldi carries.   Maybe they think you'll compare box sizes at home?  The important question is, how does Millville compare to the other two cereals in this battle?

When it came to the look, there are a few notable differences.  Wheaties appears to be the most "golden brown" in color, perhaps a bit more eye appealing than the two knock off brands.  The Millville flakes mimic Wheaties better than the Kroger brand, which looks to be quite a bit drier if that's possible in a wheat bran flake and with that, the flakes themselves are less uniform and some quite a bit larger in size.  In the taste test, they all tasted virtually the same, sampled dry and with milk, none more sweeter or less robust in wheat flavor than the other.  But the crucial part of the test, the sogginess factor......  Wheaties comes out on top on this one, I got through most of the bowl before sogginess set in.   Aldi's discount brand Millville came in second in this factor and the store brand, Kroger came in last - I hit sogginess about 3/4 through the bowl.  It might have something to do with that drier looking flake, it just absorbed the milk.  Wheaties also has the better crunch of the three, a more satisfying crispy/crunch flake going on.....

Wheaties gets top nod when it comes to crunch and the sogginess factor, but is that worth paying the premium price?  No!  For my money, I'll take the Millville version of Wheaties.  Although the price for the two knock offs is the same and for the same amount of cereal, the Millville flakes are slightly better than the Kroger flakes, it came down to the sogginess factor. 

So if you have been a buyer of the name brand, there's really no reason to continue doing so.  Save yourself some money with the discount brand from Aldi.   It really doesn't matter what sports star graces the front of the box.

And if anybody out there reading this is making the argument that this wasn't a fair comparison, because Wheaties are "Wheat flakes and not bran flakes, those are two different things.".....  Think again.   The first and main ingredient on all three box labels is:  Whole Grain Wheat.

Wheaties:  Whole grain wheat, sugar, salt, corn syrup, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) added to preserve freshness.

Kroger Bran Flakes:  Whole grain wheat, wheat bran, sugar, wheat flour, malted barley, flour, salt

Millville Bran Flakes:  Whole grain wheat, wheat bran, sugar, brown sugar syrup, salt, barley malt extract.

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

Review: Todd Brians Brick Street Cafe & Tavern

Todd Brians
Funtini Menu

By Mike Thayer

A friend of mine had a birthday yesterday and to celebrate, there was a little get-together last night at Todd Brians Brick Street Cafe & Tavern, a local establishment boasting of Wichita's best American and Cajun food.

Located in Old Town, Todd Brians is also known for it's "Funtini" menu and on this night, they were half price!  Funtinis are colorful spins on martinis, creations of all sorts, tendered up using a playful assortment of flavored vodkas, rums, juices and other ingredients.

I've never been to Todd Brians before but in a quick review of their website and menus, it sounded like a fun time. 

Arriving at the establishment around 6:30pm at the same time as my birthday friend and his lady, we were greeted warmly by a member of the wait staff and the pre-arranged party table was set and ready for us, so we had a seat.  So far so good!

About as soon as we picked up the drink menus to look over, our waiter arrived at our table to take our orders.  We decided on those Funitinis to get started, each of us ordering something different to sip on while we waited for other guests to show up.  Let's get this little party started, right?

Kentucky Sunshine
After a few sips.... Deliciously Smooth!

Well, not so fast.....  the drinks took awhile to journey from the bar to our table, which was kind of surprising because at this point the place was less than half full and appeared to be well staffed with a couple staff members just standing around and chatting.  Once our drinks did arrive though, they were eye pleasing and filled to the brim!  I ordered the Kentucky Sunshine, which is Burnett's Cherry and Whipped Vodkas, mixed with bourbon and orange juice.  It was deliciously smooth!

Soon after other party guests arrived, it was time to order another round of drinks and some food.  For my second round and sampling another Funtini, I went with the Ocean Water, a concoction of Burnett's Blueberry Vodka, cranberry juice and a splash of Burnett's Mango Vodka.  Like the first round of drinks, it took quite awhile before they arrived to the table.  Turns out our waiter was serving double-duty, he was also the bartender.  You could tell however that he was not very experienced at bartending, having to pull out the recipe book for each and every drink he made.   Pouring one liquor into the glass, he would side step back to the recipe book, do some reading, side step back, then measure and pour in the next ingredient, side step again, repeat.  He did an admirable job, he didn't mess any drinks up (as far as we know), but his double-duty as waiter and bartender did cause a very noticeable delay.   Other members of the wait staff were again observed, standing around, chatting.

Ocean Water
This drink needs a different name or some salt

The Ocean Water Funtini, which looks like a glass of Windex when presented, was decent enough, it gives you the fruity notes in a subtle vodka kick but here's the thing with this drink....  When I think of ocean water, I don't think of fruity notes, I think of a salt element.   The color of the drink is actually fine, it carries the blue ocean water look, but this drink needs a salt element to live up to the ocean in the name.  As for taste, this particular Funtini was not NEARLY as tasty or as smooth as the Kentucky Sunshine.

After more delay, an additional long wait for getting water for everyone (time ticking past 7:15), our waiter took our food order.  Everyone at the table selected something different, a variety of burgers, chicken dishes and sides.  Wanting to sample more Funtinis, I kept my meal order simple (and considering possible waiting time), choosing a chicken tender basket with fries.

Like the drinks, the meal order took a long time to make it to the table.  We had so much time on our on hands in fact, I started to build a martini glass pyramid with empties.....  I was about to start a third level of empty glasses when our food order finally did arrive.  It was then that another member of the staff noticed all the empty glasses and removed them from the table and sent our waiter back over to take another drink order.

The meals were quite tasty and enjoyed by all, compliments to the chef!  Every dish on the table was nicely prepared.  My chicken tenders were a 'safe' order, it's tough to screw that kind of thing up.  They were good, as in slightly above average good, crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside.  The fries were seasoned well, but the portion was quite small.  To be fair, I ordered from the appetizer section of the menu, but when my basket was set in front of me, a friend sitting across from me noted laughingly, "That's supposed to come with fries, right?"

Green AppleFor my third Funtini, I tried the Green Apple, which is primarily Burnett's Sour Apple Vodka.  It sounded more appealing on the menu, it was rather boring though and my least favorite of the night.  I thought it would have more of a tart edge to it.

To wrap up the celebration, my birthday friend tried to order a round of drinks for everyone, but here's the response we got when trying to place the first few new Funtini orders:  "I'm sorry, we're out of the vodka needed for that drink."  They were out of vanilla flavored vodka, out of the ingredients to make a Sangra-Tini and out of another flavored vodka for another kind of Funtini, the particular name of which I cannot remember.

At that point, we all looked at each other and mutually decided, "Checks please."

Chicken Tenders
Count the fries, go ahead and no, they weren't buried under the tenders

As we waited for our checks, the guest of honor asked around the table what Funtini we each liked best.  Everybody had a clear favorite, one they would order again, but other Funtinis, not so much.  Personally, I tried three and would only order one again, the Kentucky Sunshine.   That was the general consensus of the table, of the three or so Funtinis each of us tried, everybody liked one, the other two, not so much and NOBODY at the table was willing to pay full price for them.  Half price on this night, the regular Funtini price is $7.95.  So I spent $12 on drinks on this occasion with only one of them being truly enjoyable.  On a regular night my bill for beverages would have been $24, a bit pricey for what I got.  The food was good overall, but considering the service we received, I'm not anxious to return to this spot again.  I was OK throwing down just over $20 + tip for three above average chicken tenders, a tease of fries and three drinks, but would not have been happy paying full price.  If the service were to improve and with a full stock of liquor (I suspect poor management on both counts), Todd Brians would be a repeat visit, but ONLY on half price Funtini Night.  On a regular night my bill would have topped $30 + tip and for what I got, my $30 would be better spent somewhere else. Todd Brians Brick Street Cafe & Tavern gets just 2 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.

2 stars

Todd Brians Brick Street Cafe & Tavern is located at 315 N Mead, Wichita, KS 67202

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

The Joe Lunchpail Garden

By Mike Thayer

RadishesIf you're the typical weekend gardener, then this is for you.

This is an article designed and catered for the not-so-serious but wants a decent garden kind of person.  This guide of sorts is not fancy, it lacks pages upon pages of beautiful garden pictures, but it does provide content, content, content.

Got Dirt?

Plan your successful garden at the kitchen table.  Sketch out your thoughts on a piece of paper while sipping on your favorite beverage.

Even if you've had an established garden for years, mapping out your garden and deciding on plant varieties can save you time and perhaps money come spring. I like to plan my garden out during the late winter months, when cabin fever takes hold and I'm suffering from football withdrawals.  I also like to check out the garden sites on the internet and the mail order seed catalogs around this time, getting ideas and buying a few things.  Buying in late winter helps ensure you'll receive your order in time for when that spring urge to start putting plants in the ground hits  you.

The first step if you don't already have an established garden is to select an acceptable site.  No weekend gardener/typically average Joe Lunchpail backyard is absolutely perfect, but you'll have a harvest you can be proud of if you locate your garden where it will get six to eight hours of sunlight daily.  The site should drain well, be "reachable" by garden hose, but not too close to the dog house, unless extra fertilizer is desired.

If you don't have a flat backyard, don't worry about it.  Slight slopes can be good thing for drainage, but steep slopes will require terracing and that means the weekend gardening thing just became a "take-a- vacation-in-order-to-make-a-garden-spot" major project.....    Unless you decide that's what you want to do, you may want to consider container or patio gardening.

Don't have room for a big garden?

Patio GardenHow about a couple small ones instead?  Have a little plot for your tomatoes, have another little spot somewhere for your onions, carrots and radishes.  Sow some lettuce seeds in a flower pot instead of those petunias and you've got yourself a nice salad garden, fresh from your backyard.  There are a number of tricks and things  you can do that will save you time and space.  Space limits may mean you can't have everything you want in your garden, you may have to pick and choose.  Too much in a garden or not having enough room to operate can lead to problems and a disappointing harvest.

Don't have a yard?  No problem, then a container garden can be created.  An apartment patio or balcony can host quite a few containers, adding a nice look to your space to boot!TIP:  Flower pots aren't just for flowers anymore.  If you've got a window ledge that just collects dust, put a little flower pot on it sown with parsley.  Down the road, you've got fresh parsley to top a dinner entree.  And don't think you'll be sacrificing beauty by swapping out flowers for vegetables.  A healthy bunch of parsley looks great and bonus - it's edible!

Zoning Your Garden - Picking the right plants, plotting your garden and prepping your soil

It's important to know what kind of plants are appropriate for the area.  You can find a "planting zone" or hardiness level on the back of most seed packets and on those little plastic tags stuck in the soil of starter plants.  Knowing what's "in the zone" will help you determine what kind of plant varieties you want for your garden.  Most stores that sell plants and seed packets are pretty good about selling what's appropriate for the area they serve, but sometimes a few varieties slip in that aren't appropriate or hardy.  As a weekend gardener, make sure you're buying something that is suitable for the zone where you live.

In much of the Midwest for example, you'll want to start planting what's considered "cool weather" veggies about a month before the last frost - plant around mid-April.  The "cool weather" veggies can handle a little frost, seed varieties like spinach, lettuce, peas and radishes. Other veggie varieties can be planted around mid-May where the Mother's Day rule applies.  DO NOT plant the following veggie seeds or starter plants in your backyard garden before Mother's Day:  Beans, corn, tomatoes, eggplant, squashes, cucumbers, peppers, melons.  Pretty much anything can be safely planted after Mother's Day, but don't wait much past early June though if you're planting seeds, as some plants won't have enough time to give you a full harvest before the first fall freeze comes around.

There's room to grow

No matter what size garden you decide on, there's more room to it than you might think.

Let's say you decide on a backyard garden plot of 18' x 7'.  It's a typical backyard Joe Lunchpail garden size but by doing what's called "Companion Planting" you can turn your garden into a better than average producer.  How do you do that?  It's simple really, don't plant everything in single rows.  Plant quick growing plants like radishes with slow growing carrots.  Inter-plant onion sets with broccoli.  Don't plant lettuce in a single row, sow your seeds in a six-inch wide row instead and mix up the varieties, it will make for a better salad.    Peas can be done in a similar fashion, plant a row that has edible pods and just six inches from it, plant a row that does not have edible pods or has a longer maturity date.  Don't EVER single row the onions, it's a waste of garden space, they can go just about anywhere there's some extra space, a couple inches will do, around broccoli, around tomatoes, around anything that takes awhile to mature.  You'll enjoy picking a few as table fare as you wait for the broccoli or whatever to mature later in the season.  Be creative, try to match up fast growing veggies with slow to mature varieties.  A fun one is planting pole beans with corn.  The pole bean climbs the corn stalk, it's a race to the top.

In general, try to plant your vegetable rows in an east-west direction.  North-south planted rows, start off OK, but as plants get taller, they can eventually shade each other out of needed sunlight as the sun moves across the sky.

Consider planting some flowers in your garden.  Marigolds planted around your border for instance helps to keep certain pests away from your soon to be delicious produce.  Certain flowers can also help attract the good insects that will help to pollinate your garden and make those veggies.  Frills and function!

Now Let's Talk Dirty!

Let's face it - fertile soil - that's loose and full of nutrients does not exist in every Joe Lunchpail backyard.  We've all seen those garden shows where the gardening "star" can be seen using a garden tool in the dirt as if it's a hot knife through butter.  Keep in mind that those show gardens have had years of compost, amendments and pampering put into them, so don't get discouraged.  Most soils while not perfect, will grow veggies and flowers and if not, the soil can at least be doctored up and done so inexpensively.

Having good soil is key.  A garden in clay will not be a very productive one for you.  Mixing in some sand and compost will go a long way towards improving matters, although means getting your hands a little dirty.......  but isn't that what gardening is all about anyway?

Amending the soil vs. Tilling

I'm not a huge proponent of tilling, unless you're breaking ground for a new garden or are adding amendments to a heavy clay soil.  For a new garden tilling is almost a must, it's a HUGE time saver and it's easier to amend the soil in getting that garden started.  Be sure to remove that layer of grass though, tilling it up with the soil will result in that grass trying to grow back in your garden among the veggies and flowers you planted. The reason I don't like tilling in an established garden is, 1.  You don't want to accidentally tear up any bulb or perennial areas and 2.  An established garden flat out doesn't need tilling.  Nature works great, a garden that's been properly cared for has all the air and nutrients necessary to start spring planting.  Any amendments to the soil can be sprinkled on, let Mother nature and water do their thing.

TIP: Renting a tiller can be more than a one person job.  Loading/unloading, picking up and returning - you might tag the spouse, son, daughter or a friend to help you out with that.  Also, keep in mind that when renting, a front tine tiller is arguably harder to handle than a rear tine tiller.  Things you can do before you 'til:  Have a pick-up truck or a friend that will let you use theirs for a couple hours? 

If you have a medium to large garden, a load or two of black dirt will do wonders for your soil.  You can find some quality garden grade soil at a local gravel/landscaping materials business.  A truckload of good top soil beats the heck out of buying a bunch of 40 pound bags of dirt at the local garden shop.  Buy plants there by all means, but the dirt, not so much....  Other items to consider adding as a top dressing before tilling that first season garden or heavy clay/packed garden: 

    • Epsom salts:  Plants love magnesium, they get greener, bushier and that's what the epsom salts give you.   Healthy plants fight off pests and disease better.
    • Sand:  If you've got a lot of clay in your garden, this will help break things up and improve drainage.  You can get sand at the same place you get that truck load of black dirt.
    • Pete Moss:  This is a natural, all purpose soil conditioner.  If you've got clay soil, it helps loosen it up.  If you've got sandy soil, Pete moss helps firm it up.  It also hangs on to those nutrients, helping plant roots to feed.

More gardening ideas and tips coming soon.....  

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

Food Review: Miss Vickie's Jalapeno Kettle Cooked Potato Chips

By Mike Thayer

Chips1In my humble opinion, the Miss Vickie's brand of chips is one of the top brands in the country and is superior to Lays.  Miss Vickie's is so good in fact, it's why you see them as the featured brand in most sub/deli shops.

You really can't go wrong with any flavor that Miss Vickie's makes, but today I'm sampling the Jalapeno Chips. 

Here's the product description:  Made with jalapenos for enough flavorful heat to make things deliciously interesting. And every spicy bite is made with no artificial flavors or preservatives.

I love these things!  It's a nicely balanced chip, tasty heat but not overpowering and the kettle cooked texture gives you that ultimate chip crunch.  No dip required!  Costing me $5.99 for a 22 ounce bag at Costco, Miss Vickie's costs a bit more, but they're well worth the price.  These aren't ordinary chips, they're extraordinary.  Miss Vickie's Jalapeno Kettle Cooked Potato Chips gets 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  They are most definitely a repeat buy!

5 stars

Miss Vickie's Chips
There were no crumbs at the bottom of the chip bag....


Food Review: Hippeas Organic Chickpeas Puffs Vegan White Cheddar

By Mike Thayer

Hippeas Chickpeas Puffs
A good chip alternative?

To paraphrase AC/DC and the song "Whole Lotta Rosie"..... 

They ain't exactly pretty.....

They ain't exactly delicious.....

So on a whim while shopping at Costco today, I picked up a bag of Hippeas organic chickpeas puffs, white cheddar flavor.

I've been looking for an alternative to chips, something different, something a bit lower in carbs.

In reading the label, these seem to fit the bill.

But do they taste good?

If you're not familiar with chick peas, a.k.a., garbanzo beans, they are quite nutritional, popular in Mediterranean, Indian and Egyptian cuisines and for a plant, are a good source of protein.  When I was in the military and stationed in Turkey, dried/roasted chickpeas were THE snack of choice in bars and parties and if you like and/or have tried hummus, a popular dip typically eaten with pita bread, ground up chickpeas are the main ingredient.  Hummus is fantastic, thanks to other ingredients, such as lemon juice and olive oil.  The problem with chickpeas on their own when dried and/or roasted, they can be quite dry.

The upside to that from a bar owner's perspective is that a dry snack help sells more alcohol......

20190720_113347-1So enough with the chickpea history/tradition lesson, how are the Hippeas you ask?


They ain't exactly pretty.....

They ain't exactly delicious.....

At first bite, they're quite boring.  You get a nice crunch, the Hippeas live up to a respectable "puff" bite, but the flavor does NOT hit you right away, it's more like a Styrofoam experience, but the white cheddar does kick in on the back end.  Like traditional roasted or dried chickpeas at a Turkish bar, these things are quite DRY.  But at just 130 calories and 17 carbs per serving, if you're looking for a diet alternative, Hippeas chickpeas puffs are a smart choice, they are NOT however going to rock your world.  They're OK.  They are indeed something different from the ordinary chip, they deliver on crunch, but in a diet way, not a flavor way.  Costing me $6.99 for an 18 ounce bag, I'm giving Hippeas Chickpeas Puffs 3 out of 5 stars, they deliver to their target audience, those into organic/diet/low carb.  But are they a repeat buy?  Yes, if on a diet.

3 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

Party Prepping on the cheap

By Mike Thayer

Party Prep
A picnic basket is a festive, space saving way to put plates and plasticware out for a grilling themed party! Thanks Diane!

Throwing a party can be stressful and no, I'm not talking about the impromptu kind of party where you have some buddies over to watch the big game and all you have to do is have cold beer in the fridge and a few bags of chips on hand.  I'm talking about a planned out party, to include a food menu, a drink menu, a variety of guests, perhaps some party favors and a bit of decoration.

The first thought when planning your party should be about the aftermath......  Who wants to wash dishes?  NOBODY.  For a casual party keep it simple!  Buy some inexpensive plastic or paper plates and cups.  You can pick up something a bit more festive than plain 'ol white paper plates at Dollar Tree, various packages of 8-12 plates for just $1 a package.  Check out their party isle!  They've got just about any party need and decor covered, plates, napkins, tablecloths, plasticware, cups, shot glasses, serving trays, serving spoons, you name it.

20190712_100204-1The second thought is the menu.  Jot down menu ideas whether it's simply on a piece of paper or on a white board in the kitchen.  Everything else for the party hinges on what YOU plan to serve.  When inviting guests, ask them to bring a side dish or a dessert and BYOB for drinks.  This cuts down on your meal prep, adds to the food menu and cuts down on your booze expense.  You supply the main dish, the meat for example, let's say, burgers and brats for that casual party.  Guests will provide a wealth of chips, salads (lettuce, pasta, potato), hot potato dishes, bean dishes and more to compliment the main dish.  Most party guests will let you know what they're bringing.  There will be desserts to enjoy as well, and desserts go with everything!  When it comes to drinks, have 20190712_071443some water and a couple of 2 liter bottles of soda handy.  I typically purchase a case of bottled water, some Sprite and Coke.  Many guests will bring a bottle of wine to open up and share which is always fun and conversational.  If you have a bar, open it up to your guests, having beer, wine and spirits on hand for any special requests.   This can be quite fun too, having guests try an adult beverage they've never tried before.  People will respond to, "Come here, I want to give you a shot of something....."  A tip jar on the side to cover bar expenses is optional.

Take the lay out of your buffet line seriously.  It can't be hap hazard, burgers on one end and buns way over on the other....  Lay it out in an organized fashion, imagining how you would fill your plate as you set it up.....  Pick up the plate, napkin, plastic ware, then condiments, meats, sides and so on, consider the possible warming trays, platters, bowls and even a crock pot or two guests might bring (Can you say, "Baked Beans with huge chunks of bacon?"  It's another dose of YUM!).  Provide a power cord or outlet option.  Make it so a line of people have room and won't be bumping into each other, cutting through, excuse me, sorry, pardon me.....

20190712_095454-1(1)Provide an appetizer for guests to snack on until the bulk of the guests arrive or in case your main entree isn't coming along as timely as you had planned.  Keep it simple.  A few small bowls of Pub Mix (Costco $6), pretzels, nuts, etc., dispersed in key places in the party area will go a long way towards keeping folks satisfied - especially those early arrivals - until the buffet line is open.

When it comes to entertainment, it depends on the crowd and if there's a theme to the party.  It could be playing cards or board games on the coffee table; work friends just chilling out to binge watching the latest trendy program or a run of sitcoms; or good old fashioned soft music and conversation.  For a little fun I always like to post a trivia question somewhere and the first person to answer the question correctly gets $1.  At my latest party, I put a bag of ice in an ice chest for drinks (don't forget ice for the party!), and on top of the ice chest was an impromptu sign that read: 

Cold As.....


Name the rock band for this late 70's era hit and win $1

Play it up, use your imagination, maybe the prize will be different for your party.  And themes for parties are always fun.  Themes can be in the food, Asian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, Mediterranean....  Or themes can be in the entertainment.  Think like as for having a watch party for a big game on TV.  Guys and gals (whether bona fide fans or gals just supporting their guys) typically wear sports jerseys and some even 'sport' face makeup in their favorite team's colors (see what I did there with, 'sport'.....) to watch that big game.  If watching a movie, let's say something Marvel, why not 'sport' Marvel apparel?  Somebody might just show up in an Iron Man mask.....  

As the host of the party, you'll want to have an assortment of aluminum pans and disposable plastic storage containers on hand.  The aluminum pans are for serving up the meats or whatever main dish you planned, possibly using those pans to transport the meats/main dish if grilling.  These are fantastic because there is no clean up involved, throw them away when done and they're cheap.  Get a package of two or four (depending on size) for just $1 at Dollar Tree.  And for when guests would like to take some tasty leftover treats from the party home with them, a small stack of Ziplock or other brand of plastic storage containers/bowls, a.k.a. Tupperware comes in rather handy.  I love it when guests take some food home with them, that means the food was good and party guests are leaving with a party 'favor' of sorts and a smile.  Party success!  If any food remains after that, bonus for the host.

A few little things that sometimes get overlooked when putting together a party are having enough serving spoons ($1 at Dollar Tree), condiments, toothpicks, seating and a trash can on hand.  When guests bring those fantastic side dishes to the party, sometimes they forget the spoon to serve it up with.  That's where you as host, come to the rescue with a serving spoon or a set of tongs (89¢ at Walmart).  When it comes to condiments, this depends on what's being served, but I like to buy small bottles of ketchup, mustard, pickles, mayo, whatever for the party.  They're fresh, smaller bottles that take up less space which is important because you'll want to keep them in a small tray of ice on the buffet table for the duration of the party.  An assortment of toothpicks and appetizer/cocktail picks come in handy as well for grabbing those pickles, olives, etc., and perhaps serving up a mixed drink requiring an olive to two.  Seating can sometimes be an afterthought.  Sure, you've got the couch, loveseat, maybe a Lazyboy (your chair...) and maybe some folding chairs.  But what if your party grows to 15 - 20 people?  Dining table chairs will suffice if they're not in use for playing cards, but don't be afraid to say, "Bring a chair."  Just about everybody these days has some kind of sporting/folding chair.  For parties growing in number beyond that, then it becomes a standing around, rubbing elbows party.  And then perhaps the most overlooked need for a party, is a strategically placed trash can.  While putting it in the middle of the room would be the easiest to find, the "Hey, here I am so don't just leave your frick'n dirty plate on the coffee table!".....  It would be a bit unsightly.   Find a spot that's out-of-the-traffic-path, yet easy to find, like say, on the way to or next to the bar.

Here's my checklist for getting started on putting a party together:

List of supplies for a casual party

  • Table cloth(s)
  • Plastic or paper plates
  • Napkins
  • Cups
  • Plasticware
  • Water
  • Complimentary soda
  • Ice, don't forget the bag of ice
  • Condiments and a tray of ice to hold them in
  • Power cord/extension cord, or outlet access for a crock pot or two
  • Aluminum pans
  • Serving spoons & tongs
  • Toothpicks, appetizer/cocktail picks (for picking up small appetizers, mixed drink use or after meal use)
  • Tupperware for guests (the 'party bag', taking home tasty treats!)  TipRepurposed Deli Meat containers work great for this.
  • Seating (do you have enough?)
  • Trash can access
  • Charcoal (if grilling)

You can have a great party without having to spend a lot to make it so.  Besides, it's the people that make the party!   Most of the above list that you don't already have on hand can be purchased at Dollar Tree and/or Walmart for a sum total of about $30 tops.  The bulk of your party cost is going to be in creating the main course and then there's the optional alcohol if you decide to do that.  I recently bought brats, ground meats for burgers, a pork shoulder for pulled pork and the buns and cheeses to go with it all for around $65, so my total expenditure for a casual grilling themed party was less than $100, the cost of some adult beverages not included.....  "Come here, I've got a shot of something for you....."

$pend Wisely My Friends.....