Virginia-Highland: Bungalows, Boutiques, and Bodaciousness

There’s a beloved little corner in Atlanta called Virginia-Highland.  It’s where Josh and I spent our last year in Atlanta, and it’s what we immediately associate with when we miss that city.

So named because it’s at the corner of  Virginia and North Highland Avenues, it was first developed as a streetcar suburb.  (There are plenty of Atlantans, even residents of this neighborhood who erroneously call it “the Virginia Highlands” — including myself for a while… though technically it’s “Viriginia-Highland. ” Whatever.)

Though the streetcars are long gone, the streets are still lined with the beautiful homes from that time period, including grand Victorians and fabulous Craftsman style bungalows.

Josh and I actually lived in one of these old houses (built in 1929), and it was our favorite apartment that we  lived in while in metro Atlanta.

What’s nice about Virginia-Highland, aside from the architecture smorgasbord, is how pedestrian friendly it is.  If you live in this nabe, all of the restaurants and shops, including a lot of great boutiques, are within walking distance.  And this is especially exciting because there are more Zagat rated restaurants per square mile than in most places I’ve seen (not a verified fact — but probably not too far from the truth), not to mention dozens of shops and boutiques, which feature the work of local artisans and designers.

While Virginia-Highland is not on a typical tourism itinerary for those visiting Atlanta, it’s certainly a great way to spend an afternoon or evening, not to mention it’s just a couple of miles from some of the bigger attractions, like the Georgia Aquarium, Turner Field, the World of Coke, and Centennial Olympic Park.

Here’s a list of some of our faves from VaHi:

George’s — This place looks like just another hole-in-the-wall, but they have some of the best burgers around.  (Zagat and lots of other important people say so, including Josh Donahue, so it must be true.)  Aaaand they’ve been around since 1961, so they must be doing something right.

Fontaine’s Oyster House — We only visited this place a couple of times, so we didn’t exactly sample the menu, but their New Orleans-influenced food is fantastic.  (And fabulous decor, too!)

Highland Woodworking — This place makes me wish I had carpentry skills every time I walk in.   They carry a lot of what you’d expect the big box retailers to carry, and then some!  Even better, their staff is very knowledgable about their products and they even offer classes and workshops.

Doc Chey’s Noodle House — Yes, they have noodle bowls, and they are excellent (as you’d expect from a noodle house).  However, my personal favorites on the menu are the fish tacos.  They are… well, perfect.  (And I’m picky about this sort of thing.)

Yeah! Burger — Think of the personalized experience you get at Five Guys, then add words like “veggie,” “grass fed, ” and “free range,” and you have Yeah! Burger (oh yeah, and add a couple of bucks to the price tag).  They also have their own special recipe sauces for you to choose from (including something sinful called bacon jam) , and they are about as green as a business can be.

Paolo’s Gelato— An award winning Italian gelato shop!  Everything is made fresh daily, and aside from their daily standards, they have a few varieties that change daily (you’re lucky if you show up on a day when they have avocado gelato — surprisingly delicious).

Rosebud — Comfort food with a gourmet twist.  Located in nearby Morningside, this place is great for brunch, lunch, or dinner.

El Taco — Tacos and booze, what more could you ask for?  They have an excellent fish taco (some people say it’s the best in town), free fresh chips and salsa, and lots of drink specials, including an hourly free drink giveaway.  And their salsa bar has a salsa that literally hurt my tastebuds… so proceed with caution.

The Paper Source — This is a chain that some of you may already be familiar with, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this particular location (and with authentic tin ceilings and original details, it’s gorgeous inside as well as out!).  Aside from a rainbow of stationery and papers, they also sell wrapping sheets in some of the most beautiful and unique papers, many of which are only available at Paper Source.

Half Moon Outfitters — This is the go-to outdoorsy store for VaHi (and much of midtown Atlanta).  With two levels of shopping, they have bikes, tents, gear, clothing… and honestly, lots of other things that I know nothing about seeing as I’m not the outdoorsy type.  But Josh likes this place, and no VaHi walkeroo shopping trip is complete without a stop here.  (And they allow dogs to come in to the store!)

Half -Moon Outfitters Virginia Highlands

Armour & Co. — It’s a home emporium of dreams and delights.  But mostly dreams, as their prices are something that I could never afford, oh but how nice it is to window shop and pretend!  (And steal ideas…)

Alon’s — This is a market and restaurant, with super-duper fresh food, baked breads, and pastries.  Walking by this place is an olfactory experience unto itself.

Yogli Mogli Frozen Yogurt — Yes, a chain, but since it’s addition to the VaHi strip, the lines haven’t slowed down.  And c’mon, it’s the hot South — we require frozen delights.

Taco Mac — Yeah, I know, you’ve probably already heard of this place before, but this is the original location — where the magic all began!  Aside from excellent pub food, they have the Brewniversity program, a frequent diners’ beer-of-the-month club.  #joshfavorite #watchoutforthefratboys #totallyworthit

Noche — This is one of a few locations in the metro area, though each locations’ menu varies slightly.  Delicious tapas, appetizers, and entrees, and I know I sound like a broken record, but they also have really good fish tacos.

Festivity — This is a chain boutique, but I especially love the VaHi location

Dakota J’s — Another fun boutique!  And unlike most boutiques, their prices are pretty darn reasonable in my opinion!  (My favorite cocktail dress of all time came from this store.)

Technically, a couple of these restaurants and shops are in the Morningside neighborhood, but it’s so close to Virginia-Highland (like a five minute walk) that I had to include these as well.  And believe it or not, there are still many more restaurants, many of which Josh and I never got a chance to try (we’re bad about sticking to a couple of favorites and not branching out).  What’s great about VaHi is that the “worst” restaurant (there are none), would be the best most anywhere else.

As far as the shops go, I’ve just listed those that I have browsed through (or been a customer of).  The last time Josh and I drove through in April, a couple of places had closed and new shops had opened in their place.  So, don’t take my word for it — things are constantly evolving — for the better — and these changes tend to keep with the unique, one-of-kind tradition that is Virginia-Highland.

For more info, you can check out their website.

To see where exactly VaHi is on a map, go here: Google maps:  Virginia-Highland

Back to crafty-crafty good times tomorrow… I’ll show you what I did with my Michaels’ $1.00 stationery!


How to See the Oscar Nominated Shorts, All in One Place!

OK, so the Oscars were a little over a week ago, and this post is not nearly as topical as it could be, but better late than never.

Hey, did you know that you can see the Oscar nominated live action shorts for a mere $6.99 on iTunes?!  (That’s including the Academy Award winning The Shore.) Apparently every year they bundle these shorts together for one low price and sell them in the iTunes store (where have I been?).  All you need is an iTunes account (free) and a credit or debit card… and six dollars and ninety nine cents, of course.

With five shorts, that’s about $1.40 per short.  (See how I did math there?  That’s division, y’all.)

As you can see, I was right in the middle of downloading it when I took this screenshot.

You can also get the Oscar nominated animated shorts:  It’s $6.99 for four shorts, plus four bonus animated shorts (I guess they weren’t nominated, but I’m sure they’re still highly entertaining).

So, if you are not among the few who may have accidentally caught one of these shorts during the previews at a movie theatre, you can still catch them.  Just search “Oscar shorts 2012 .” Then host an Oscar nominated shorts viewing party… and serve foods that are… shortOr make everyone wear shorts… Or….  Maybe I’m reaching too much… But you get the idea….

Go check it out!

Dork for New York: Free Things To Do in NYC, Christmas Edition

Hope everyone had a lovely weekend!  Mine was particularly great as Josh and I had a day off together (whaaa???) and my dad came to visit!  Yeah, I know… I’m still sort of pinching myself.

Am I about to give you a summary of what we did over the weekend?  Yes.

Did I take pictures to document these events?  Uh huh.  

More importantly, were all of these things free (or almost free)?  You betcha!

In fact, with the exception of a couple of cheap meals and the subway fare, it was completely FREE.  So, for those of you scratching your heads wondering how anything enjoyable could be free in Manhattan, here’s the play by play of what we did:

On Friday — the day Josh and I had off together — we decided to be tourists in our own city, so we hopped on the subway to Manhattan to check out the Rockefeller tree and the FABULOUS windows on Fifth Avenue.  First of all, everyone talks about the “windows of Fifth Avenue,” however after doing some research, I realized that only some of the iconic window displays are on Fifth Avenue.  The most notable displays are found at Bloomingdale’s, Barney’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, and Bergdorf Goodman.  So, I did the ol’ Google maps things to try to find a good walking path and still catch the tree along the way, and here’s what I came up with:

(If you click on the image, it’ll open to a window with a bigger image.)

A.  Bloomingdale’s

B.  Barney’s

C.  Bergdorf Goodman

D.  Rockefeller Center Tree

E.  Saks Fifth Avenue

F.  Lord and Taylor

G.  Macy’s

All in all, this walking tour is 2.1 miles, but no big deal; we’ve grown accustomed to doing a lot of walking. And since these windows are one of the (free) highlights of Christmas time in NYC, we were all about it.  So, with comfortable shoes on our feet (and multiple layers to minimize the whining I often do when I’m cold), we set out.

First stop:  Bloomingdale’s.  Now, Josh and I have never actually done the whole looking-at-all-the-pretty-windows thing in NYC before, so we didn’t really  know what to expect.  Bloomingdale’s entrance (below) was super pretty (though it looks like this –or a version of this — throughout the year):

Bloomingdale's NYC store front

Bloomingdale's NYC store front

Sparkly.  Oooh….

The theme for their windows was shopping bags from previous years.  Some of the windows were just the images, but three-dimensional.  Others opened like a pop up book, showing an expanded take on the shopping bag images.  Some of the windows even had touch screen cameras so you could tap a star with your hand, and it would take your picture and show it on the screen inside the window.

I didn’t get a picture of those (this was before I got trigger happy with the camera, but trust me they were pretty cool).
Here are two of the “bags” I got pictures of:

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

I’m not sure why I felt compelled to take pictures of just these two over some of the others that were perhaps even better.

Also, one of the windows featured ornaments that had been designed by celebrities, with 100% of the profits going to charity.  Here’s the window from a distance:

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

And here they are up close, so you can actually read the names of the participating celebrities:

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

I’m not sure which one is my favorite, though I have to admit, I don’t really appreciate that each one has the name or initials of the celebrity.  That doesn’t exactly motivate me to buy them.  Hm…

Framing the bag with the ornaments were two jack-in-the-boxes dressed in tuxes and top hats, adorned with festive paraphernalia:

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

I’m not really sure why these were part of this particular display, but I guess such things are left to be pondered by the artsiest of the fartsiest, and perhaps not me.

All together, Bloomingdale’s was a pretty cool display, but our socks weren’t completely knocked off.

(Don’t worry, we’re not always such a tough crowd; our socks are later knocked off when we see the Bergdorf Goodman windows.  Read on…)

Next stop: Barney’s.

Woof.  And not in a good way.

I can’t even pretend that I liked one iota of the Barney’s display.  I’m all for minimalism and artistic expression, even if it’s vague sometimes.  As a performing artist and the daughter of a (visual) artist, I’m no stranger to such things… but the Barney’s windows looked a lot more like an unfinished… I don’t know what.  Blah.  First of all, here’s the entrance:

Barney's 2011 windows

Barney's 2011 windows

So… certainly interesting.  I read it had something to do with Lady Gaga (so that explains a lot), but this entrance doesn’t exactly inspire Christmas spirit.

(For those of you who have just stumbled here, I am not exactly the traditional red and green Christmas type o’ gal.  However, I need a little more than what Barney’s had to offer.  You’ll see.)

Here are the actual window displays… and P.S.  These are the finished products.  This is not a work in progress:

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Well, the lighting is nice…

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Can you hear me yawning across cyber space?

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

It’s like a very unexciting holiday museum.

And in case you’re thinking that I’m holding out on you, that maybe the bigger picture has a bit more excitement… the answer is no.  And just to prove it to you:

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

See?  I told you.

So, Barney’s in summary:  Yes, the lighting is stunning.  And any other month of the year I’d be like” That’s nice and simple, I guess”… “Those are pretty vases.”  But these are the holiday windows in NYC!  They’re kind of a big deal, and Barney’s has a history of having great (and usually tongue-in-cheek funny) windows.  We felt a bit let down.  But we soldiered on…

We then walked to Bergdorf Goodman.  Just so happens that right across the street is FAO Schwarz (and no, there is not a “t” in that word, despite my strong convictions otherwise… how did I never notice that before?).  It also just so happens that Josh and I have never been to FAO Schwarz.  Despite the fact that we’re both 26 years old, we decided we needed to remedy this.

Oh boy! Oh boy!  Home Alone 2 and Big don’t even begin to cover it!  Sooo amazing… and we took a lot of pictures.  Perhaps more than anywhere else.  Here’s the view of the main level, looking back at the door:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Here’s their candy store, FAO Schweetz:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

I can’t even fathom the profit they make, considering that A) to exit FAO Schwarz, you must go through the candy store and B) the candy here is $13.49/lb.  What!?!

While in the candy store, Josh found a candy snake.  He had some very strong feelings about it.

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

My cool-ideas-for-home-decor radar never rests, so I had to snap a pic of part of the ceiling in FAO Schweetz:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Pretty, right?  Go go gadget Pinterest.

Inside the candy shop, there’s a Make-Your-Own Muppet station (for a mere $99).  I couldn’t not get a picture of their clever lighting:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Here’s the actual station where you can get the muppets made:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Josh found one of the general muppets for sale and somehow it ended up on his hand.  For the rest of the evening, he repeatedly said “I’m really into this whole ‘make-your-own-muppet’ thing!”  (Not gonna happen, sweetie.)

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

The view from the second level, looking down on the main level:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Quidditch supplies?  For real???  Yeah, I nerded out for a minute.

And then… I found a Sorting Hat.

sorting hat

"Pleeeease, Ravenclaw, pleeeaaseeee......"

The finger crossing because I was desperately hoping to be sorted into Ravenclaw (I mean, that’s what the Facebook test told me).

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

I was pleasantly relieved/surprised to see a book section.  And it was pretty…

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly we visited the Big Piano (you know, from the scene in the movie, Big).

The Big Piano

FAO Schwarz

I even returned with my dad the next day and got a video of the “professional piano dancers.”  They were pretty fabulous, and something tells me that they are working/starving actor-singer-dancers like myself :)

Here’s a video of them playing/dancing “Fur Elise” and “Jingle Bells”

On the way out, we got two more pictures with these incredible Lego creations:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Really, ALL legos:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

(Josh’s expression is intense on purpose… you know, he’s posing with Lego Indiana Jones.  What do you expect?)

OK, so after that surprise but welcome detour, we returned to our previously scheduled walking tour.  We walked across the street to Bergdorf Goodman.

Without hesitation, Josh and I firmly agreed that their windows were the best by far.  According to Trendland, an online “trend forecasting” magazine, “It may take 2 full weeks to install the elaborate and highly anticipated Holiday Windows of Bergdorf Goodman but it takes David Hoey and the visual team of BG 60% of the years work hours to make this fantasy come to life.”  When you see the pictures (and the incredible detail) you will understand why.

The theme for BG’s windows was “Carnival of the Animals.”  In some cases, it seems they employed a few taxidermists, as there are actual stuffed bear, wolf, and deer heads, to name a few.  Out of context this sounds a bit weird, I’ll admit, but the combination of materials and the actual scenes displayed in each window are fabulous and it’s very effective.  Ok, so here are a few of the men’s windows:

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

Yeah, a real wolf’s head.

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

The word on the window for this one was “Shipshape.”  As you will, some of the pictures are not the entire window.  With the amount of pedestrian traffic on this sidewalk, it was virtually impossible to get all of the windows.  And I had more than a dozen New Yorkers scathingly call me a “Tourist!” (To which I sort of rudely responded, “Nope.  Brooklynite.”)

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

The word on this window is “Trustworthy” and it features a human-sized cat walking six dogs.  The sheer impossibility of this makes me giggle, especially when I picture a cat attempting to walk my dogs (if a cat got that close, it’d be eaten).

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Stuffed bear head in a leather jacket and scarf = Adventurous.  Ok, I’ll buy it.

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

I loved this one!  The word on the window is “Mighty.”

True story:  The woman standing behind me (also trying to get a picture), said VERY loudly “What the hell is that word?  Mig-it-ee?” To which her friend kindly responded “No, that’s mighty.”  Haha.

The word for this window was “Dapper.”  The details in this window got me particularly excited because they hearkened me back to two previous posts.  First of all, the clever use of vintage yardsticks and rulers reminded me of this post.

bergdorf goodman windows holiday 2011

Not to mention the Singer sewing machine which reminded me of my dining room table :)

A bit blurry, but this one was set in a barber shop and the attention to detail was incredible!  There was even a black and white TV that was playing a football game (it was a looped video, I assume).

That’s a singing cardinal, y’all.

And that was all I got of the men’s.  Super clever, slightly weird, and all around amusing.

Across the street were the women’s windows, and they took on a very different tone.

Bergdorf Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Holiday Windows 2011

A giraffe and an equally long-necked lady mannequin.

Bergdorf Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Holiday Windows 2011

The detail on the giraffe was amazing:

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

There was so much going on in this window (below), I found it very difficult getting a good picture.  Needless to say, it was fabulous and looked like a King Midas/Cave of Wonders love fest.

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Girl, you is purdy!

I was especially smitten with the lighting in this one:

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011


This little diorama window was only about 8″X10″:

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Ok, I saved my favorite for last:

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

And guess what?  The sparkliness on all of the sea life is actually mosaic tile!  What!?

(Unfortunately, I did not get a close-up as everyone else loved this window too.)

Of course, there was even more at Bergdorf Goodman, but then my camera…

… died.

Rather, its batteries died.

So, while I did visit the windows of Lord and Taylor and Macy’s, which were lovely, I don’t have any pictures.  Sigh…   However, I can assure you the shining star (in the pretty windows department, that is) was definitely Bergdorf Goodman.

Oh, and of course we couldn’t get back to Brooklyn without checking out the tree, and I do mean the tree.  I got a picture of it, albeit a little blurry and crooked, on my BlackBerry:

See the ridiculous amount of people?  Well, when I went with my dad the next night, it was ten times crazier.  I think if someone had sneezed or tripped and fallen down, there would have a been a very unfortunate domino effect.

So… after 2.1 miles and 87 pictures, we had a splendid time… and then the next night, I took my dad on a similar, but slightly abbreviated walking tour.  Sort of “The Best of…” where we hit FAO Schwarz, the Rockefeller tree, and of course those glorious BG windows.

And how many dollars did all of this festive frivolity cost?  Zero.

(Well, almost.  My dad was somehow suckered into buying a pound of candy at FAO Schweetz, but I did not encourage said endeavor.  But I didn’t exactly discourage it either :)  Yum.)

Here’s to hoping you all have similarly frugal holiday adventures!  Feel free to share them with me, regardless of what city you live in!



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Free Food on Halloween!

***Yes, I mentioned a holiday travel blog, in-the-works, that I was going to post today, but then I remembered today was Halloween!  Tomorrow: original programming as promised :)

*****And… if you have not yet taken the five minutes necessary to read my previous, albeit off-topic post, please do so, if you feel so inclined:

Halloween is not just a day for wearing costumes, alluding to the “zany” nature of death, and soliciting your neighbors for candy – though if you think about it, that sounds really bizarre out of context.  And… it’s not just my friend Mike’s birthday, though if you knew him you would see how this is totally appropriate.  Halloween is also….

…A great day to get FREE FOOD!

My sweet little hot dog and bumblebee. (and by the way, I think Halloween is the only acceptable day to put animals in costumes, so I take FULL advantage of it. I got the hotdog costume at Goodwill for $2 and the bumblebee costume on sale for $4 at Petsmart. Worth. Every. Penny.)

Some restaurants offer free appetizers or dessert, some offer a discount off the entire check, especially if you wear a costume, and the majority of eating establishments offer free meals for kids (sometimes with the purchase of an adult entrée and/or if they wear costume).  I’ve listed below a few deals that I found online (some provided by, others thanks to my Googlin’ skillz).

This list is by no means exhaustive! Once I started looking up these deals, I realized there were too many to type, so if you’re thinking about dining out – or ordering in – call ahead or ask for their Halloween specials – you might be surprised!

My disgruntled bumblebee, Nola, awaiting her dinner... however, this was NOT a free Halloween meal for her. I made her wear this costume (for 5 minutes) so I could get some pics. She's still bitter about it.


Applebee’s: Two free kids meals per adult entree; no costume necessary; In the Atlanta area, you can get 50% appetizers

CiCi’s Pizza: Coupon: Free kids buffet for kids in costume with purchase of an adult buffet

Dave and Busters: Spin and win $10 or $20 in free game play or a free entree

Chili’s: Coupon: Free kids meal with purchase of an adult entrée

Chipotle Mexican Grill: $2 burrito, bowl, tacos or salad for kids and adults dressed in costume inspired by the family farm from 6 to 10 p.m. (What does this mean?  I don’t know.)

Einstein Bros. Bagels: Free espresso with purchase of a breakfast sandwich; expires Nov. 10

Krispy Kreme: Free Halloween or Pumpkin Spice doughnut for anyone in costume

McCormick & Schmick’s: $10 off $50 check; expires Nov. 20; Free happy hour appetizer when you vote on cocktail recipe on Facebook; expires Nov. 13

Papa John’s: As always, PJ’S has its “Monday Mania,” which just so happens to fall on Halloween.  All large pizzas (including specialties) only $8.99

Pizza Hut: Free breadsticks or cinnamon sticks with e-mail signup and $10 any size, any toppings pizza

Steak ‘N Shake: Half-priced milkshakes from 6 to 10 p.m.

Ruby Tuesday: Buy one entree, get one free; through Facebook; expires Nov. 6

Sweet Tomatoes: Free meal for kids 12 and under in costume with purchase of adult entree

T.G.I. Friday: Free appetizer for anyone wearing a costume Saturday-Monday; Free entree with purchase of entree and two beverages.

Waffle House: Free waffle, any variety, through Nov. 11
Free waffles?  You gotta love that.

Not all locations have the same deals, so double check before you go!

Hot dog and Bumblebee are STILL waiting for the "OK" to eat. They're so patient.

Everyone have a safe and happy Halloween!!!

***and one more plug for yesterday’s very important blog:

If you agree with any of my arguments, please sign our petition:

Every signature helps, and we’re so close to our goal!  Help us to meet it, then surpass it!

In praise of

This curious expression brought to you by (I'm not gonna pretend this is a cute picture of me, but I thought it important to include as the first time I tried blackened alligator. So good! All thanks to my voucher. Wink!) is a long time GPP fave!  I first learned of this website through one of those wretched “Just sign up for four offers and you get a free Macbook!!!” things (not  a GPP fave).  This was in the early days of those promos, before everyone knew that you don’t really get the Macbook for free , or  even close . . . at least, that’s my defense for now and I’m sticking with it.

After I realized that I was indeed not going to get said Macbook for any kind of special price, in the midst of the rubble, emerged as one of the few offers that was legitimately a good deal. – Basically it’s a website where you buy discounted restaurant vouchers.  First you have to search by state, then city, and then you are offered a list of available restaurants.  So… No – you can’t type in a specific restaurant to see if it’s included on the list, you have to go by location first.

 (Sorry to all of you out there that really wanted to catch a deal at the local Golden Corral, you’ll have to scroll down to the G’s first.)

Typically, the restaurants listed are NOT big chains or even well-known restaurants (though sometimes you may be surprised!)  The website is mainly intended for newer eating establishments to boost their business.  This means it can be hit or miss, since you are often patronizing places that may not have been reviewed yet.  On your local list, you will also find restaurants that offer unique fare, often of the international variety, so this is a great way to explore more adventurous cuisine for less.  As of this writing, the current price list for the vouchers is as follows:

(Look! A Table!!!)

Gift certificate value:

Price YOU pay:











These are good deals already, but… wait for it… if you put your name on their mailing list, you’ll get weekly e-mails with ADDITIONAL percentages off!  These discount codes are only given to mailing list members; they are not mentioned on the website, so you would never know unless you signed up for it.  And… better yet, these discounts are quite generous: 30%, 70%, even 90% off on some occasions (it actually happened last week, but I didn’t have access to a computer to tell you about it).  This means you could have gotten a $25 gift certificate for only $2.50!

Now, there are a few things to note, before you’re all “FREE FOOD!!!”  With the vouchers, you have to make a minimum food purchase, e.g., you must buy $35 worth of food to use the $25 voucher– but that still means that you’re essentially getting $35 of food for $10, plus the cost of the voucher.

(And I really feel like this goes without saying, but OF COURSE you’d still tip your server for the full amount of what you would have owed, had you not had a voucher… but you already knew that and you’re not tacky people anyway, right?!)

Different restaurants have different rules, so please read the voucher details carefully before purchasing!  Most restaurants exclude alcohol from being eligible for the discount, so if you’re only a party of two and you’re trying to get to the minimum purchase amount, drinks will not be the way to go (but by all means, drink and be merry!).  A better way to get to this minimum $ number is to try an appetizer and/or a dessert along with your entrée.  This may mean you’ll need a doggie bag for some of your food, but that’s okay!  (Of course, inviting friends along and using the voucher for your whole party is another great way to get to that minimum. )

This picture was NOT brought to you by But the drinks were delightful, all the same.

One more thing:  It is at a restaurant’s discretion, and all these policies would be on the voucher, available to you BEFORE you buy it, but some restaurants limit voucher usage to certain times of the day or days of the week, e.g., “May not be used for Friday or Saturday dinner” or “Only available for lunch.”  Again, this is all disclosed to you BEFORE you actually commit to buying a voucher, so read it carefully to make sure it’s actually going to be something you’ll want to use  [visualize maternal finger wagging here].

So, the next step is to go to:

Run, don’t walk!  Even if you do not buy vouchers today, look and see what’s available in your area.  Add yourself to the mailing list, and wait – it won’t be for long – for an e-mail with a discount code for an additional percentage off (really, it won’t be for long).

In fact, here’s a freebie:

Today through this Sunday, October 16th, you can take an additional 80% OFF of a voucher purchase and get all $25 vouchers for $2, too!  Enter promo code: TOUCHDOWN

Wasn’t that sweet of me?  You just learned about and you’re already saving money!


RESULTS! Blind Taste Test: Cheap Champagne

We all picked the third champagne as our favorite. We were really hoping it was the cheapest. Except for Josh, who just needed to make that face.

If you have not yet read the previous blog posting, now would be a genius time to do so, otherwise these results are going to seem irrelevant to you (and we don’t want irrelevancy!). But if you HAVE read this blog and are waiting with bated breath for the results, as I am sure you are, here goes:

Andre’s the winner!

Are we really that surprised?  As I mentioned in the previous posting, we each wrote down our favorite, second favorite, and least favorite.  After we had made our decisions and crossed our fingers, we each revealed our picks, only to discover that we all had the same preferences, thus Andre extra dry was the victor.

Now, I know some of you may be saying it’s not quite fair that we were stacking Andre extra dry against two Brut champagnes, and perhaps you’re right.  However, I think you will be interested to find that our SECOND FAVORITE proved to be the cheaper of the two Bruts, Jaume Cristalino, and it’s still only $7.99 – NYC price (Yes! GPP win!).  Therefore, when comparing the two Bruts, Jaume Cristalino, $7.99 and Freixenet, $20.99 , the cheaper one was tastier!

That’s right: for the price of one bottle of Freixenet, you could buy two of the Jaume Cristalino and still have money left over.  Or better yet, you could just get Andre and call it a day! (Did I just make up a new bumper sticker slogan?)

So whether you’re making mimosas for your next hosted brunch or just celebrating an exciting accomplishment… or… just drinking champagne — preferably NOT alone — stick with Andre.

And when your family and friends see the Andre label and turn their noses up in snobbery, tell them you got the recommendation from a very reliable source.

And when they ask who this “very reliable source” was, you can … you know … tell them!

Wishing you many Andre-worthy moments,

The Ginger Penny Pincher

Blind Taste Test: Cheap “Champagne”

(The Ginger Penny Pincher wants readers to know that no “champagne” was wasted and no animals were harmed in the making of this blog.)

September 16th, 2011 marked the seven year anniversary of my first date with my husband, and we thought:  “What better what to celebrate than with . . . ‘champagne’?”

Three champagnes, one winner.

And . . . being the over-achieving penny pinchers that we are, we thought:  “What better way to celebrate than with a blind taste test to determine the best cheap ‘champagne’?!”

(In reality, the taste test had been planned well before we realized this day was our date-versary, but we thought it was a lovely coincidence, so . . . just pretend you didn’t read this parenthetical aside.)

Now, you may be wondering “what’s up with all the quotation marks around the word ‘champagne’?”  Well, for those of who don’t know, the word “champagne” refers to one very specific thing:  a sparkling wine made from grapes found in the Champagne region of France.  Fin.  The end.  Nothing else.  You may see the word “champagne” on various bottles in the U.S., but the majority of these are nothing more than sparkling wines.

The word “champagne” is so sacred, in fact, that its use has been protected by law since 1891.  Furthermore, this law was reaffirmed in 1919 in the Treaty of Versailles.   (Perhaps you’ve heard of it?  It helped to end World War I – it was kind of a big deal.)

However, while it may be law in Europe, this law has never applied to the United States because the U.S. never ratified the Treaty of Versailles!  (This choice obviously had nothing to do with champagne.)  Therefore, the word “champagne” can be used for . . . well, anything:  sparkling wine…grape juice…my dog’s middle name.  Whatever.

Not surprisingly, American vineyards took advantage of this for a little while, labeling most sparkling wines as “champagne.”  However, this practice has died down quite a bit in recent decades and most sparkling wines are now called exactly that:  sparkling wine.

The Taste Test Task Force!

OK, so history lessons aside, I used only sparkling wines in the “champagne” taste test seeing as how REAL champagne is not Ginger Penny Pincher-friendly.   Our neighborhood has only ONE liquor store, and it just so happened to be closed on Saturday, but our friend Maria came through by bringing two different types of (cheap) champagne, one low-cheap and one medium-cheap. Josh and I already had one bottle of champagne that was on the higher priced end (for cheap champagne, that is), so we felt we had a good range.

Now, this was not a perfect experiment because we tasted two Bruts and one extra dry, but this was all we really had available to us, and we thought the findings were still useful enough for them to be blog-worthy, so here goes.

We sampled:

  1.   Andre, Extra Dry, $5.99 (however, out of NYC this champagne may be as low as $3.99)
  2. Jaume Serra Cristalino, $7.99  (though the internet tells me it usually retails for $6.99, but that’s NYC prices for you)
  3. Freixenet Cordon Negro, Brut, $20.99

We uncorked all three, or in the case of Andre, removed the screw-top lid.  Classy, right?  Then, we filled three glasses with a little from each, and Josh and I left the room while Maria labeled each class with a folded up piece of paper that had the identity of the contents on the inside.  We were really high-tech about this.

Maria is responsible for the drawing of the blind person. Those who are offended can direct their outrage to

The original plan was to actually blindfold Maria and hand her the glasses to sample, but she did such a great job at scrambling their order that she had already forgotten what was what by the time Josh and I returned (thus the lack of zany blindfolded pictures).  We sampled each, and in a super-sneaky-snake-post-it note ballot, we cast our votes for favorite, second favorite, and least favorite.

The results were unanimous!    Wanna find out which cheap champagne prevailed?

SUBSCRIBE and find out!

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FREE DONUTS! Or Penny-Pinching Practice and Pastry Perks (a play in one act)


Or Penny-Pinching Practice and Pastry Perks

A play in one act

By Courtney Foster-Donahue


Courtney:  Protagonist, mid 20’s, redhead, cunning, clever, capitalizes on the bored vulnerability of Dunkin Donuts cashiers by employing her slight Southern accent.  Note: Actress only uses accent out of necessity, i.e., the acquisition of free food. Otherwise, she has virtually no dialect.  Also possesses acumen for alliteration, but employs this skill only when typing.

Josh:  Slightly goofy sidekick and husband to Courtney, mid-20’s, strangely tall, dashing, has a newly found fondness for his Fedora hat.  Quite adept at letting Courtney take the lead in all thrifty endeavors, especially those involving free food, particularly sweets.

Armand: Dunkin Donuts cashier, early 20’s, of nebulous ethnicity.  Easily susceptible to the Southern wiles of Courtney; worlds like “y’all” are a particular weakness.


September 2011, late evening.   New York City, “the City that Never Sleeps,” in a quiet Brooklyn neighborhood that goes to bed at around 8:57 p.m. EST.

Lights come up on a Brooklyn street , a pleasant evening at the end of summer; the kind of evening that makes  lovers yearn wistfully for the days of their youth… and other, overly poetic things Eugene O’Neill would have said in his stage directions.  Our hero and her husband roam Cortelyou Road in search of sustenance.  (A recent cooking malfunction has rendered their oven useless for the time being and with no microwaveable food, they have taken to the streets for their evening nourishment.) 


Scene 1

Less than interesting dialogue ensues as the couple walks along:

Josh:  How about this place?  They look open.

Courtney:  They just closed.

Josh:  (a few steps down the road) Ooh, this one!  There are people sitting down inside.  Oh, but their “closed” light is on.

Courtney:  Schmehhh…..

Josh:  What about Superior Deli?  I really liked that sandwich that one time… Yeah, let’s go there.

Courtney:  Don’t they have a debit slash credit minimum?

Josh:  Oh… yeah.

Courtney:  Do you have any cash?

Josh:  I’ve got a dollar.  (Non-Pinterian pause.)    Do you have any cash with you?

Courtney:  Never.


Courtney:  I think the only place on this street that takes debit cards with no minimum is Dunkin Donuts.

(Sound cue:  Unnecessary honking of car horn on street.)

Josh:  (disinterested)  Hm… How about this place?

Courtney:  That’s a bar…I don’t want to drink my dinner…  (smiles)  This time.  I think Dunkin Donuts is gonna be our best bet.  They have a totally decent chicken salad croissant.

Josh:  (quasi-ignoring Courtney, per usual)  What about here? (realizing)  Oh… they’re closed.

Courtney:  Yeah… (repeating verbatim for effectiveness):  I think Dunkin Donuts is gonna be our best bet.  I mean really, the chicken salad croissant is pretty good.

Josh:  Let’s just go to Dunkin Donuts.

Courtney:  (slightly peeved) Uh huh.


Scene 2

(Fluorescent lights up on a local Dunkin Donuts, shiny, clean, recently opened to the great joy of the Monday-through-Friday-A.M.commuter in the area.)

(Armand, DD cashier of nebulous origin and accent, waits for the ever- approaching closing time.  He is slightly depressed that he will have to throw out the baked goods that were not sold or eaten at the end of the night…  Slightly depressed, but mostly bored.  Note:  He is  unusually polite for a New Yorker.)

(Enter our hero, and her husband.  They have a spring in their step as they approach the counter.  They are hungry and, after all, Dunkin Donuts is the only eating establishment on their street that does not have a debit card minimum.)

Courtney:  What are you gonna get, sweetie?

Josh:  I don’t know.

Courtney:  I’m gonna get the chicken salad croissant.  It really is pretty good, did I tell you I got it one time?

Josh:  Uh huh.

Courtney:  (spies newly hung pumpkin donut sign)  Ooh, pumpkin!

Josh:  Yeah, that sounds good.

Courtney:  Yeah!

Armand:  Welcome to Dunkeen Donu’s, How-are-jou-dis-eveneeng-may-I-take-you-order? (with curiously rolled “r”)

Courtney:  Uh…yeah.  I want the chicken salad croissant and a Diet Pepsi. (Beat.)   Since you don’t have Diet Coke.

Josh:  I want the same.

Courtney: (aside to Josh)  I really think you’ll like it.

(The couple pays and proceeds to sit down, waiting for their order.  Increasingly less interesting dialogue ensues:)

Courtney:  I wonder what they do with their leftover donuts at the end of the night?

Josh:  What do you mean?

Courtney:  Well, you know, most bakeries have to throw away their baked goods at the end of the night if they weren’t all sold or eaten.

Josh:  Oh, because they might get stale or something.  (recalls:)  Like when we were at Shorter and we would go to Panera at closing time and get all those bags of bagels for rehearsal.

Courtney:  Yeah.  I should totally go ask that guy what they do with their left-over donuts.  You know, in the name of research… for the blog.

Josh:  You should!  But I’m not gonna get in the way of your Courtney/woman magic.  If I was up there when you asked he’d be like “Nooo….”  (Beat.)  But if you do ask, I want a chocolate cake donut.

Courtney:  Ok.

Courtney crosses down stage center (where else?) and moves with confidence.  For reasons unbeknownst to her, she suddenly takes on the speech patterns of a Southern Belle.

Courtney:  (to Armand)  Hiiiii……

Armand:  Jase?

Courtney:  Hey, whaddy’all do with yer leftover donuts at the end of the niiight?

Armand: (unable to stifle a smile)  Oho!  Heard jou talkeeng about duh pumpkeen ones!  Here!  A pumpkeen one for you!

Courtney:  (surprised)  Oh!  Thanks!  Uh… can he have one?  (points to well-concealed husband, sitting in a booth)

Armand:  (As if noticing him for the first time)  Oh… jase.

Courtney:  Great! I think he wanted a choc—-

Armand:  (interrupting)  A pumpkeen one for him, too!

Courtney:  (slightly disappointed) Oh… (Always the gracious penny-pincher:)  Thanks!!!  (testing the waters:)  Hey, do you always give away the leftover donuts at the end of the ni—-

Armand:  (interrupting, while abruptly exiting to the backroom:)  Enjoy it!  G’night!

Josh:  (after a bewildered moment:) Sweet! A free donut!

Courtney:  (while taking a bite:) And it’s really good.  (decides:)  Yay!

Josh:  And it was free:  yay!


(Playwright’s Note:  Any resemblance to actual historical events is entirely intentional and accurate, with the exception of the Dunkin Donuts’ cashier’s name, which remains a mystery.  Josh totally made the “Armand” part up.  Like his name, the DD guy’s ethnicity also remains a mystery. 

The playwright encourages the reader to go out and take advantage of these opportunities, like the one described in this play.  Many bakeries and cafes follow this same policy, either greatly discounting their unused food prior to closing, or giving it away all together. Become familiar with the closing hours of your local bakeries, whether they are chains OR mom-and-pops.

 The playwright also would like to remind readers that IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK.  Who knows? Perhaps you’ll end up with an “Armand.”  And… maybe even a spontaneously generated, yet surprisingly useful Southern accent.)

Okay, but seriously folks, all playwrighting attempts aside, do YOU know of a bakery, cafe, somewhere that doles out their leftovers???  Please comment and let us know! (The “leave a comment” link is below after the tags and it is very small.  Click on it. Then comment.  Then rest assured).)

If you mention a mom-and-pop store, don’t forget to mention the city/state… And of course, SUBSCRIBE! It’s that widget in the upper-right hand corner!