My apologies if you were expecting to see this column last week. I've been in a state of sticker shock ever since I got back from Florida and made my first trip to the supermarket.

For three weeks now, I've practically been in a coma, walking around in a stupor, tripping over the furniture, not knowing what day it is (even more so than usual, considering my many senior moments), and totally forgetting that I even write this column, let alone actually sitting down and writing it.

It's taken a while to recover, but I think I've finally come to my senses and am beginning to see straight again - not that I like what I'm seeing.

When I left Ohio back in December, you could find a pound of ground chuck on sale at Kroger's every other week or so for $1.69. Butter was $2.00 a pound almost everywhere and sometimes on sale for even less. A gallon of milk could be purchased for $1.99. Sirloin steak was, at most, $4.99 a pound, but could usually be found on sale somewhere every week for $3.99 and sometimes even $2.99.

So I get to Florida and the price of food is practically double. Well, not quite - but close. Milk, $3.29 a gallon; butter, over $3.59 a pound; and I almost died when I had to shell out $3.49 for a 16-oz. jar of Miracle Whip! And no place did double coupons.

However, my sanity was restored by a few mitigating circumstances: One, I had anticipated those higher prices because I went through the same traumatic experience when I arrived in Florida last winter, so it wasn't as painful this time. Two, there's an Aldi's there now, although some of their prices were higher than in Ohio. And three, I discovered a couple "Scratch and Dent" grocery stores where bargains can be found if you're not too persnickety. I got a perfectly good box of potato pancake mix for 49-cents and they turned out to be absolutely delicious!

Nevertheless, despite leaving a sunny, 80-degree climate for a bone-chilling, wet and cloudy weather scenario, I was anxious to get home to decent, lower grocery prices and double coupons.

NOT! Gone is the $1.69 ground chuck. The sale prices now range from $2.99 to $2.49, and usually the latter is the "Manager's Special," meaning it's in the "Past the sell-by date" bin. I just paid $3.00 for a gallon of milk and I had to pass up the sirloin steak, which is currently going for at least $6.99 a pound. I was lucky to find butter (which is regularly over $3.00 a pound now) on sale at Kroger two pounds for five dollars, and a 50-cent store coupon brought it down to $2.25 a pound.

Which brings up another complaint. Have you noticed that coupons are now mostly "Twofers?" Meaning that you have to buy two of the same item to take advantage of the coupon. I had one for $1.00 off two large cans of my favorite brand of coffee, but at $11.99 a can it would still add almost $23.00 to my grocery bill! That same coffee was $7.99 last December.

I hope beans and wieners don't get priced out of my budget, cause it looks like that's the only thing we'll be able to afford to eat pretty soon!

As for dessert, here's one that won't hurt your wallet since we all usually have most of the ingredients on hand. It's surprisingly good and has a lot less fat and calories than the standard version since it eliminates the fattening crust.


2 cups milk 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup Bisquick

1/4 cup margarine, 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla 4 eggs

melted 1/3 cup lemon juice

Place milk, sugar, Bisquick, margarine, eggs, vanilla and lemon juice in container of blender. Cover and blend on high speed for 15 seconds. (Or put in bowl and beat with electric mixer for 2 minutes.) Pour into a greased 10-inch pie plate. Bake in preheated 350° oven until a knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 50 to 55 minutes. Store in refrigerator.

Note: To make it even less fattening, I used 1% milk, Splenda for the sugar, the lower fat Bisquick and 1/2 cup Egg Beaters for half the eggs.