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Tips For Making Great Pizza at Home

Let me be upfront with you. I’m a pizza fanatic but I’m hardly a pizza expert. I’ve never worked at a pizzeria. My mother made pizza at home maybe twice. I didn’t grow up in New York City or Chicago. We ate Pizza Hut pizza growing up.

But for what it’s worth, I am from Findlay, Ohio, home of the Domino Parmesan Bread Bites. So making great pizza must be in my blood.

I make pizza for dinner almost every week. I’ve had my fair share of trials and tribulations, but for the past year, I’ve had consistent success in the art of homemade pizzas.

Today I will share with you what I’ve learned and my tricks to easily making a good tasting pizza in your kitchen.

1. Do it. Use fresh dough. Either make it yourself (I’ve had success with Annie’s recipe), or do what I normally do and if you’re lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s near by, always have a bag of their pizza dough in the fridge or freezer. If you aren’t, most major supermarkets have a ball of frozen dough in the freezer section. This is also good. I’ve tried the pre-baked dough from grocery stores, like Boboli brand, and while they’re fine, they just aren’t the same as fresh baked dough when it comes to taste and texture. If you make your dough from scratch, try and let it sit in your fridge or freezer for a day or two. Mature dough has better taste and a chewier texture.

2. Don’t even try to work with cold dough. Pull your dough out of the fridge at least 2-3 hours hours before you plan on working with it. I understand why most busy people don’t like to work with fresh dough. It can be high maintenance. Finicky. Frustrating. But the key is to leave it warm up to the idea of being your supper. Letting it rest at room temperature for a while is the only way it will cooperate. There surely is science behind this. I don’t know exactly what it is, though. I just have circumstantial evidence.

3. Use your hands. There’s a reason why those guys in pizzerias throw the dough. It’s not just to show off. The dough needs thrown. I haven’t actually thrown dough, but I won’t rule it out in the future. Now I just use my knuckles to gently stretch the dough ball out to roughly the size I want it to be. Don’t stretch too far, unless you want holes. I don’t recommend holes. Once you’ve stretched your dough out with your hands, I plop it on a floured large sheet of parchment paper. Flour the top of the dough, flour a rolling pin and roll it out to a more uniform thickness. I never achieve a uniform shape. My finished pizzas are always wonky ovals or rectangles, but I don’t care about this. It makes me feel like Jamie Oliver. If while you’re rolling your dough out you find that it is still stubborn and shrinks right back to the original size. Don’t keep trying. You can’t force it. You just have to walk away for a short while and let the dough rest before trying again.

4. Oil it up. Once your dough is rolled out, liberally brush olive oil around the outer rim of the pie. This will result in a nice golden crispy wonderful crust. I also recommend lightly sprinkling the crust with kosher salt and, my specialty, a little bit of grated cheese (Asiago, Romano or Parmesan). I also will lightly salt all over the pie before I add the sauce and toppings.

5. Two words. Cheese blend. Just regular old mozzarella is okay, but if you want your pizza to taste like it does from a fancy pizzeria, then you gotta use a mix of several cheeses. Trader Joe’s makes this easy for me. I only use their bag of Quattro Formaggio which is a blend of shredded Parmesan, Asiago, Fontina and Provolone. It melts wonderfully and is the perfect combination of salty, sharp and creamy. If you don’t have a TJ’s at your disposal, and you don’t feel like buying four different kinds of cheeses (don’t blame you!), I recommend using shredded mozzarella but also adding grated Asiago and shredded Fontina or shredded Provolone.

6. Throw on some fresh herbs. I don’t always have fresh herbs when I make a pizza, but when I do it really makes a difference. A generous topping of chiffonade basil on top of a basic olive oil, tomato and garlic pizza can be really impressive looking and tasting. I also frequently incorporate fresh thyme and rosemary in my pizza toppings. It makes me feel fancy. It makes the taste more memorable.

7. What pizza stone? There isn’t one in my kitchen. I achieve wonderfully thin and crispy crust with parchement paper. Just roll out the dough on top of the paper. When you’re done topping the pizza, slide the paper and pizza on to a baking sheet and then slide the paper and pizza off the baking sheet directly on the oven rack in preheated oven.. Remove from the oven in a similar fashion. Voila!

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Mother Mother

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It’s your birthday! We  gonna party like it’s yo birthday! Gonna sip Barcardi like it’s yo birthday!

You won’t get that reference, Mom. You have no care in the world who 50 Cent is, and that’s good. That’s a very good thing. It shows the world you do not hang out in bars. And because you never hung out in bars, mom, I never really liked hanging out in bars, either.

See, feminists in this country like to go on and on about how little girls are being damaged by the media’s unrealistic ideals of what a woman should be. They think that Barbie dolls are poison and that fashion magazines with freakishly photoshopped models are sending our daughters over the edge.

I argue – not true! Little girls don’t care about Barbie’s waist size. They certainly don’t compare the plastic doll’s proportions to their own, no more than they would a La La Loopsy doll’s. They don’t even look at fashion magazines. They look at the Toys R Us ads. What they do look at, very closely, is their mother. This never changes as they get older. Their first standard of what a woman should be is their mother.

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Now, I know my faults and actually flaunt them as a part of my self-deprecating style of humor, but I’m not ashamed of who I am. I think I turned out to be a decent woman, always with room for improvement though. And while my father may have had a hand on who I am as a person, mom you win the prize for who I am as a woman.

While I may not have always understood you, and thus heavily criticized what I never understood, a few things happened in the past several years that have given me a whole other perspective.

Mainly this:

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And a couple of these:

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I’d like to say, very publically, I’m sorry for being a mean and nasty teenage girl. I used to secretly hate that you let me get away with saying the things to you that I did. I wish you would’ve kicked my butt. Now I understand that you’re just as sensitive as I am, and all the mean stuff your dipshit daughter flung at you hurt and you never knew how to deflect that negativity. I’m sorry.

But more importantly, there are a few things I’d like to thank you for, because decades have passed and I’m pretty sure “thank you” are words you haven’t heard enough.

    • Thank you for not hanging out in bars. I mean, that may seem like not a huge accomplishment and maybe it really isn’t, but I think that the fact that always being home and reliable every night 365 days a year like you were is something a kid never really realizes is quite a selfless gift from their mother. I realize it now.
    • Thank you for making eating at home at the dining room table normal and pleasurable. You cooked 5 nights a week every week for decades. You didn’t cook crap either. Your food was and still is good. You came home from working an 8 hour day and spent another hour making delicious food for your family. You didn’t have to do that. You really didn’t, as most women don’t. But you did and now I do. Jeff thanks you, too.

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  • Thanks for having a positive self-image. Not even once have I ever heard you say anything negative about your appearance. You never complained about feeling fat (it probably helps that you’ve never been fat). You never went on a diet. You’ve never done anything silly like counted calories or deprived yourself of dessert or complained about wrinkles or obsessed over your flaws. You have always taken pride in your appearance. Carefully coifing your hair and applying tasteful make-up every day. You look great mom, and you always have. Thanks for not nitpicking at yourself.
  • Thanks for still taking care of me. You keep my kids clothed. You come and clean my house and do my laundry. You still feed me and my family. You don’t have to do any of this stuff, but you do. I’m glad you do.
  • Thank you for having good taste. Good taste isn’t common. You’ve got it and you’ve given it to your daughters. You know how to make a home look lovely. You know how to make beautiful things. You dressed Sara and me in very attractive clothing when we were kids, and my kids look great because of you, too.
  • Thank you for caring. Too much sometimes. I don’t know how anyone can look at how hard you’ve worked the past 30 years and not know that you care about your family. A lot. Being a mom is hard. Being a working mom is surely harder. You’ve never settled for anything but the best arrangements for us. And quite frankly, now I don’t even care if you complained about stuff. You were thanklessly working your ass off for a couple of spoiled brats. I get it now mom. Thanks.
  • Thanks for picking and sticking with someone who is a good father to his daughters. Sara and I needed you both growing up.

I’m not gonna lie, just like every other woman, when I catch myself saying something or reacting a certain way or doing something that is exactly like you, I cringe. But it happens, more and more every day now. “Over my dead body will I become my mother!”  I think. But mom, I know I will probably be a very similar mother and wife that you are and have been. And you know, it doesn’t scare me too much. Love you.

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A Spoonful of Peanut Butter Helps the Garlic Go Down

I went to bed last night feeling like a beast of a virus was brewing in me. Head was foggy. Ears felt full. Throat ached. I was exhausted.

As anticipated, I woke up feeling a smidgeon worse – not better. I just recovered from a random raging ear infection not more than a week ago. There is no way I’m going down again. So I did what any self-respecting person would do and ate a clove of raw garlic.

What? Okay, let’s rewind. I hate going to the doctor. I hate taking meds. I hate being sick. Thankfully, I’m really not sick often considering the fact that I have a toddler in school, a toddler who likes to walk around with her hands shoved down the back of her underwear, who likes to hack in my mouth, sneeze in my eye, and wipe her boogers on my bed sheets when a tissue isn’t convenient. Considering all that, I have an olympian for an immune system.

But sometimes it fails. Who knows why these things happen. Stress? Too much processed foods? A few weeks of being up all night with the baby? Not washing my hands enough?

Luckily, I stumbled across the book The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick by Gene Stone on the library e-book website a few weeks ago. It is full of some pretty interesting methods of wellness. In it you will find details behind numerous health philosophies including but not limited to taking cold showers, napping, dipping your head in a tub of hydrogen peroxide, drinking your urine, eating your boogers, and consuming brewers yeast and raw garlic. Are you intrigued yet?

I was pretty impressed by the science and the results of a lot of these methods but was most comfortable with the idea of eating raw garlic. I love garlic and think every food can be improved by garlic. If a recipe calls for a clove, I triple it.  So I was very pleased to read how beneficial it is to your health. Garlic has long been coveted across many cultures around the world for its antibiotic properties. In fact, it has been found that 1 milliliter of raw garlic juice is just as effective of an antibiotic as 64 milligrams of penicillin. People who include consuming raw garlic in their daily routines claim to have staved off the common cold and flu for years. I want to be one of those people!

But as much as I like garlic, I was a little chicken about just popping a clove in my mouth. Turns out unless you have an iron gut, that’s probably not a good idea as the garlic oils can be a little caustic on your stomach lining. So it’s advisable to down it with a bit of fat or starch. I read one technique is to drop a bit of olive oil on the spoon with the crushed garlic, but that sounded more dreadful to me than just the garlic alone. So I pulled out my favorite fat – peanut butter.

JIF to be exact. Should I be concerned about all the nasty molds and fungi in conventional peanut butter? Probably, and I do have nice all natural organic creamy peanut butter, but I’m eating raw garlic folks. Let me have my JIF.

So after crushing and mincing an average sized clove of garlic.

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I plop a tablespoon or so of peanut butter on top and use my fingers to distribute the garlic evenly throughout. Then, down the hatch!

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Would you believe me if I say I actually enjoyed this? It reminded me of a spicy Thai peanut sauce. Did my breath smell? Probably, but surely no more than if I ate a slice of garlic bread. Nothing a little teeth and tongue brushing can’t take care of. Did I emit a garlicky odor? I don’t think so. Jeff didn’t complain. Did I feel better? Here’s the thing…. I did feel a little better almost immediately. Not completely recovered, mind you, but the virus didn’t seem to materialize into a full blown cold which, 24 hours after first experiencing symptoms, it generally does. Could it be the garlic or is it just placebo effect? Who knows, but I’ll do it again tomorrow. I like Thai peanut sauce and at the very least I’ll be safe from vampires.

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Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies

Last year, for Marlo’s preschool Valentine exchange I made cute little fish cards made out of paper hearts. There were only 8 or 9 kids in her class then, and crafting those was not much of a commitment.

This year is an entirely different story. She goes to school five days a week and is in two separate classes. She has over 20 classmates and 4 teachers. Making two dozen cards would take hours. Double that time if I can conjure up some sort of patience to include Marlo in on the crafting. And let’s face it, the valentines will wind up in the trash after the period of politely putting up with it around the house ends. Here, that’s about a day. Maybe two days.

Instead, I decided to make treats. If I’m going to slave for a few hours, I’d rather make something that will actually be consumed. I was stumped as to what exactly to make when Ree, The Pioneer Woman, showed up on my television last Saturday morning with this recipe for chocolate cookies. Thanks Ree.

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On the Food Network show, she cut her cookies into rectangles and dipped them in melted chocolate and almond bark and then into various crushed up candy toppings. I didn’t have any of that lying around, but I did have white baking chips and pink sprinkles.

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A few left over for the adults got dipped into this tasty espresso sugar I picked up from the Salt Table in Savannah, Georgia.

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These cookies resemble the texture of gingerbread cookies – soft and crumbly. The flavor itself is not going to knock your socks off, it’s a very mild chocolate flavor but it is perfect for jazzing up without creating a treat that’s a little too rich for a kid to enjoy. The dough was a breeze to roll out and manipulate, and the cookies set up in the oven in less than 10 minutes.

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This might be a good one to keep in your back pocket.

Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies
Adapted from Food Network

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 whole egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 bag white baking chips
pink sanding sugar

Cream the butter with the powdered sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and mix to combine. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt, and mix together until the dough comes together. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the dough and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with baking mats or parchment.

Roll out the cookie dough and cut out the cookies using a cookie cutter, re-rolling the scraps in order to use as much of the dough as possible. Place the cookies onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, in batches if necessary, being careful not to burn. Cookies will remain the same general size and shape after they bake.

Melt white baking chips in a heat proof bowl nestled over a pot of simmering water. Dip cooled cookies into melted chips and immediately dunk in bowl with pink sand sugar. Set on cooling rack until hardened.

A Timeline of Celebrity Crushes

Today I’m going to discuss the controversy behind the proposed federal mandate requiring all employer health insurance plans to cover contraceptives and the Catholic church’s response.

No I’m not. Just kidding! We’re talking about cute boys instead!

So many of you have written to me asking me who in Hollywood gets me going. No that’s not true either. No one would do that and no one has. Let me just say though, I cover really important stuff here at random anderson and I can’t possibly think of anything you would rather learn about than a brief history of who on the television has made me swoon in the last 20 years. Marvel at the variety. Tell me about yours. Let’s share our sacred “list” and be teenage girls together this wonderful Wednesday afternoon. Totally not kidding this time.

The Early Years 1987-1995

Michael Hutchence

I was just 4 years old when I saw the video for INXS’s “Need You Tonight” but I knew right then I liked boys. This boy. It took me a while before I realized how much I liked INXS’s music. I was just too distracted by his curls and bare chest underneath that leather jacket.

Jonathan Knight

Listen. I was in the New Kids on the Block generation, though I resisted it. At Camp Glen, the local Campfire Girls’ summer retreat, I received the “Mötley Crüe” award at the end of the week because while all the other girls were waxing dreamily about Jordan Knight and Joey McIntyre, in an effort to seem different and more mature I confessed my love for Dr. Feelgood. The teenage camp counselor got a big kick out of this. But in reality, I had to play along with the whole NKOTB craze so I could fit in, but I did it my own way. Rather than favoring Joey or Jordan like every other silly girl, I picked the distant, shy, sad and ambivalent one. Also known as the gay one.

Adolescence 1995- 2001

Thom Yorke

When I was in seventh grade, I got my first pair of Doc Martens. In the shoe box was a little sample CD with about 20 recently released songs, all alternative music. The first song was “Planet Telex” by Radiohead. From that point on the Belly albums that I had in a seamless rotation took a permanant backseat. I was the world’s biggest Radiohead fan and I never looked back. Being the world’s biggest Radiohead fan and being a girl means that you absolutely must take a romantic interest in a band member. Never one to go for the easy obvious choice, which surely would have been Jonny Greenwood or Ed O’Brien, I took an obsessive liking toward the unmistakably weird, 5’5″ lazy-eyed lead singer Thom Yorke. I threw him birthday parties. Vowed I’d be his wife. Dated a guy in high school, not because I liked him, but because he resembled Thom Yorke. Yeah. Why am I telling you this?

Robert Downey Jr.

In high school, my father and I bonded over watching the weirdness that was Ally McBeal together. We loved it. Got every single strange joke. Felt at home in the nerdy awkward characters and dialogue. Then rolled in Larry, the character played by Robert Downey Jr., and the one hour show quickly morphed into time with my future boyfriend instead of time with my dad. This was really my first and formal introduction to Robert Downey Jr. During my adolescence he was in prison (what a prize!). And if you ladies out there aren’t familiar with his character on the show let me sum it up for you: adorable, witty, sings, plays piano, adorable. Too bad RDJ couldn’t keep it together off screen and got himself fired from the show. My sizzle for him fizzled quickly after that.

College Years 2001 – 2004

Jeff Buckley

How could a girl hear “Last Goodbye” and not need this man? I didn’t first hear the song until a few months after his tragic and mysterious death. So, essentially I developed feelings for a dead man. That was confusing.

Chris Noth (Actually, just Mr. Big)

I was never an Aidan girl nor was I a Berger girl. It has been Mr. Big since the first episode of Sex and the City I ever saw with him. I had a real life moment with Mr. Big about 10 years ago.  My friend Dustin and I were on a little vacation in New Orleans. We got all dressed up and had a spectacular French dinner at the famous Antoine’s. For reasons that escape my memory, I found myself alone on a quiet corner in the French Quarter. It was a very memorable moment. I was in a nice dress, standing outside Walgreens finishing a cigarette (probably so I could go in and buy more cigarettes. I was so stupid – sorry Mom & Dad). I look inside and see a handsome man buying Red Bull at the counter. The handsome man exits Walgreens. The handsome man is Chris Noth. We have a moment. We’re alone on this street corner. It’s quiet. I’m staring at him. He notices and says “Hi”. I ruin any chance of love and marriage by saying “You’re Mr. Big.” He smirks, nods and says some sort of lame reply like “Yes, I am quite tall.” He crosses the street and walks off into the New Orleans night and out of my life. True story.

Now and Forever 

Ryan Gosling

Don’t be surprised by my conventional choice. This is the man of the century ladies. Men, boys, if you’re smart you’ll strive to be just like him. I don’t need to explain. Just watch him talk about his mother and flirt with Ellen Degeneres.

Cacio e Pepe

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Or “Anthony Bourdain Pasta”, as we call it in our house. Why do we call it that? We first became aquainted with this simple idea of spaghetti, cheese and pepper as a delicious main dish last year while watching the Rome episode of No Reservations. The segment can be seen in the video below beginning at 2:50 (or just watch the whole thing, you won’t be sorry).

Tony makes it seem simple enough – just pasta, pasta water, butter, cheese and pepper, but the coward in me needed a recipe or some sort of proportional guide. After Googling it, I was pleased to see that everyone’s favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, had me covered.

I’ve made this dish, following SK’s recipe, probably 20 times. It is one of Jeff’s favorite meals and it is, by far, Marlo’s favorite. It’s my go-to meal when I’m getting low on fresh food, and this on the dinner table generally foreshadows a trip to the store. I always have the ingredients around, and I bet you do, too. Since there is really only three ingredients worth acknowledging, go ahead and try to make them the best quality you can accomplish. Spend the extra 80 cents to buy the good pasta. Go ahead and splurge and spend a dollar more on the cheese that says “Pecorino Romano” not just “Romano”. Break the bank. I dare you. And unless you’ve got some crazy arthritis, crack your pepper fresh, don’t you dare shake it out of a tin box.

I always serve it with something green, but if I had no shame I would just fill a giant bowl to the brim, call it supper and be happy (very happy). Too bad about that shame stuff.

Cacio e Pepe
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound dried spaghetti
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated *
1 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
Salt (optional)

Cook spaghetti in well-salted water according to package directions. Drain spaghetti, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta cooking water.

Dry out your pot, then heat the olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add drained spaghetti and 1 cup of reserved pasta water (careful here, it will spatter ferociously).

Add butter, 3 ounces cheese and ground pepper and toss together with tongs. Taste, adding more pasta water, cheese, pepper or salt to taste.

Serve immediately, sprinkling with reserved cheese and and more black pepper.

* I’ll be honest, I don’t really measure the cheese. Just throw it in and quit when it looks “cheesy enough” for me. No reason why you can’t do the same.

Coupons, Taking Years Off Your Life

I feel bad for local newspapers. Everyday their content is becoming more and more obsolete as the internet becomes more accessible and preferable to everyone. Interestingly I subscribe to the local newspaper, though I only get the paper delivered twice a week, Sunday and Thursday. Thursday is not my choice, just part of the deal. After a few weeks when an unsightly amount collects on my front porch, I throw all Thursday papers straight into the recycling bin. I look forward to Sunday’s paper, though, only for the stack of ads and coupons that come sandwiched between sections of unreadable conservative reporting. Though lately, I’ve become somewhat disenchanted with the act of couponing.

It seems every week, I cut fewer and fewer coupons out of the leaflets. Just a year ago I would sit for a good 15 minutes flipping though and snipping away at 25 cents of this or a dollar off that. This decline in interest could be because I’ve become a smarter consumer. Learning about nutrition and healthy lifestyles is a hobby of mine. And I’ve concluded that most things that are good for you won’t be begging you to buy them. That’s all a coupon is anyway, a bribe to buy something. Consequently, most everything in the coupon leaflets are for products that no one should be eating or using. What’s that Smart Source? You’d like to offer me 25 cents off a boxed snack full of high fructose corn syrup, trans fat, sodium and a bazillion other unrecognizable ingredients? A dollar off a petroleum based lotion loaded with harmful chemicals? Oh you’re too kind, but seriously, no thank you.

Furthermore, this super couponing craze seriously baffles me. People pour over numerous newspapers and websites to collect and carefully organize hundreds of coupons all before spending the evening before the big trip lining up their coupons to store ads to pay as little as possible at the checkout. I can’t quite fathom the time it takes orchestrate this whole fiasco. My husband always presents the question, what is your time worth? The $25 you saved shuffling paper? All to get a cart loaded with crap that will kill you sooner than later. Again, no thank you. I can think of three better, quicker ways right off the top of my head to save money at the grocery store:

  1. Procrastinate. You can’t spend money at the store if you’re not there. Get by on what you have as long as possible.
  2. If you must go bring a list and spend as little time there as possible
  3. Under no circumstance bring your husband.

Don’t get me wrong, I do get that families need to save money and people need to feed their family. I get it. I constantly encounter attitudes that resent the healthful eating movement, deeming it elitist and out of reach for the everyday family. For some reason basic logic seems to have eluded these folk. I argue that it can be incredibly affordable to eat healthy. Forget cutting coupons, imagine the amount of money the everyday American could save if they were to simply eat less, eat less meat, and drink tap water.

I dream of the day when I open up the coupon section on Sunday and find a coupon for a dollar off a pound of apples or a pint of strawberries, though I won’t hold my breath. For now, I’ll keep my Sunday routine of quickly scanning the pages of coupons for a small break on tissues, toilet paper, diapers and batteries and then spend the rest of my morning enjoying my husband and kids.



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