Fried Clams Clam Box Ispwich

Eat Better on the Plane & Other Musings

IMG_1093Hello all! I’m so happy to be blogging today–I’ve been dying to post the snack boxes I put together for our plane ride to Massachusetts last week for Spring Break (Spring Break!).

Now when I say “eat better,” I don’t necessarily mean we ate healthier–that’s not usually my primary goal in life. However, I was tired of spending too much money on food that wasn’t that great and came in too much packaging. I knew that if I could find the time, I could make us homemade in-flight snack boxes that would be tastier, cheaper, and offer more food.

I took my inspiration from one snack box that I actually love: Alaska Airline’s fruit and cheese platter: a triangle of brie, Beecher’s Flagship cheese, Tillamook cheddar, grapes, apples, Partner’s crackers, and a Seattle Chocolates truffle.

I only have two problems with this delightful platter: one, it tends to sell out (and I tend to be in the cheap seats in the back of the plane), and I need more cheese (on my headstone: Here lies Elisabeth Allie. Needs more cheese.).

I started with our longtime lunch containers from EasyLunchboxes.com, which I bought five years ago and use constantly. The large, medium, and small compartments make it easy to pack a lot of different types of snacks without them getting gross.

Next, I hit the grocery store for supplies. Here’s where I went:

  • The $5 and under box at my local supermarket’s cheese counter: here, I scored brie and some lovely estate gouda.
  • The salad bar: this is a great way to get just what you need with minimal packaging. I packed one of their large containers with salami, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, and chicken.
  • The bulk section: using my own containers, I gathered nuts, veggie chips, and yogurt-covered pretzels.
  • I also picked up some Babybel cheese, tangerines, and Ritz crackers (all favorites in our house), as well as some braunschweiger.

Here they are!

IMG_1093My box! Clockwise from top left: a tangerine, Ritz crackers, mixed nuts, brie, salami, cherry tomatoes. I asked for a plastic knife from an airport restaurant, since I doubt I could have gotten a metal one through security!

IMG_1094 (1)Sarah’s box: tangerine, Cadbury mini eggs (so irresistible), chickpeas, chicken, braunschweiger, baby carrots, estate gouda.

IMG_1097 (1)Scott’s box: My husband is, horrifyingly enough, forgoing cheese. So we have veggie chips, Ritz crackers, salami, chickpeas, tangerine, mixed nuts, and baby carrots.

IMG_1098 (1)

Sid’s box: Yogurt-covered pretzels (my son loves them), Ritz crackers, salami, mixed nuts, cherry tomatoes, tangerine, Babybel cheeses.

I put all the boxes in our sole remaining lunchbox cooler, popped them in our larger soft-sided cooler, and brought it on as a carry-on. Easy! When everyone got hungry, I passed out the boxes, and we were able to seal up the leftovers and minimal trash back in them to take them off the plane! Plus, portions were generous enough that we had leftover snacks to eat once we reached our destination, which was great!

So we spent a week in Ipswich, Massachusetts, visiting my in-laws. My brief notes (mostly food related):

The Clam Box has the very, very best fried clams I’ve ever had. Ipswich is known for its clams, and these were fresh and delicious. Look at them! Whole-belly fried clams are hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest, so I treasured my time with these.

Fried Clams Clam Box IspwichThe correct way to order coffee (or rather “a coffee”) at Dunkin’ Donuts: size, temperature, style. For example: a “medium cold coffee, black” is an iced black coffee, no sugar. A “medium hot coffee, regular” is a hot coffee with three cream, three sugar. I’m sure there are countless variations! And yes, we went to Dunkin’ Donuts with my in-laws for breakfast every single morning, where I got a “medium hot coffee, black” and a plain glazed donut. Yum.

The Ipswich Museum is delightful! They have a large collection of paintings by Arthur Wesley Dow, and their winter exhibit features a historically correct model train set that takes up an entire room and depicts Ipswich’s railroad in the 1800s. My son had a blast operating the trains and picking up cars! Also, one of the volunteers’ wives baked some incredible chocolate-chocolate chip-sea salt cookies that they gave out to visitors. Always back to the food with me!

It was a delightful trip, but I’m very happy to be home! More blogging soon, especially about a cool project that I have in the works that I am very excited about!

 

No-Dine-Out February Update!

IMG_0961.jpgWhy hello there! Geez louise, am I writing an update about last month a month late?!? I’ve been a bit busy. And I’m about to get busier (psst! I’m gonna have an announcement in the near future!).

But! To refresh your memory, my family and I pledged to not go out to eat in February, with a few exceptions (coffee and a pastry allowed, in very limited amounts; we already had plans to go to Great Wolf Lodge for a night; we had one Burgerville “cheat” night to use).

The goal: To virtually eliminate our restaurant expenses (which comprises 33% of our monthly food bill) without increasing our remaining food budget by more than 10%.

The result: Overall, we reduced our total food budget by about 9%–which was disappointing, and far off the mark in terms of only increasing our grocery bill by 10%! But I was pretty sure why: while our restaurant spending went down by 70% (I did take advantage of our “cheats”), our grocery bill went up by 37%. This was mainly because of Valentine’s Day (I splurged on steak and lobster), and because we held two or three dinner parties for eight–lots of comics folks were in town for Wizard World Portland (no I’m not linking to them).

Conclusion: If we were going to realize the full benefit of cutting out restaurants, I needed to similarly tighten our grocery budget. A no brainer for most, probably, but oh well!

Plus, we did eat out a few times, using a loophole I discovered near the beginning of the month: we used our weekly cash allowance instead of our food budget. While not strictly kosher, I was grateful for this for a few reasons:

  • I got super sick
  • I had a week where I cooked three freakin’ four-course meals and I was exhausted
  • If I can’t go out to eat occasionally life is terrible

Other observations:

  • Cooking virtually every meal (with a few exceptions) was, overall, easier than I thought. When I made our monthly meal plan, I made sure to add in any activities/events we had, so I was better about planning something super easy the night I had book club, for example.
  • While the urge to have a treat is a powerful inducement to go out to eat, I actually felt like social pressure was even more of a factor. The idea of looking cheap (or like I was no fun) made me more uncomfortable than passing up a sushi dinner.
  • Using my “personal funds” (my weekly cash allowance) made me a lot more selective about going out to eat–the reality of handing over cash made it much more real!

Finally, the most interesting thing I learned during this experiment is how to make pressed sushi (pictured above)! I’ll post the technique/recipe . . . before June. I hope.

 

cinnamon rolls

No-Dine-Out February Okay I Ate Out

img_0847

Yummy yummy cinnamon rolls!

Okay, I have a confession: I went out on Sunday. For a snack. That was sushi. I had a birthday party at a brewpub that I had already planned to attend (before coming up with my brilliant no-dine-out February plan), so I fed the family and headed out. My compromise: to use my personal weekly allowance to buy something small, so I wasn’t technically eating into (HA! I am a genius) our food budget, and I could still be social and not viewed as a cheapskate (my personal albatross from years of waitressing).

And then. When I got to the brewpub? The party had ended early! And me, with no dinner. And, more importantly: my husband was home with the kids and putting our toddler to bed for me. I suddenly had an extra hour and a half, out and about, on my own, with a couple of twenties in my pocket! Reader, what would you have done?!? I was hungry! I eschewed the brewpub and got a mocktail (don’t snicker) and a small plate at a nearby restaurant (okay it was Yakuza).

So . . . yes, I already cheated. But I don’t feel (too) badly about it. And the rest of the week has been going very well. I’ve been meticulous in outlining our various social activities in our monthly meal plan–for example, since I knew I had the birthday party that night, and a Super Bowl party during the day, I planned to make grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for the family. Quick, cheap, and universally beloved! Yes, that also describes me.

Here are some recipes that have helped me out this week–all from the Pioneer Woman:

  • Seven-Can Soup: Open seven cans, pour them in (no draining), heat it up–boom, boom, boom, you’ve got some pretty tasty soup! I added tortilla chips and avocado.
  • Cinnamon Rolls: I made a huge batch of cinnamon rolls this morning (this recipe makes at last 60). I’m going to freeze them in packs of six and dole them out over the next month or two. Note: I actually use the dough recipe for her Parker House Rolls (it has butter instead of oil), and instead of the coffee glaze, I use the glaze from her Orange Marmalade Rolls.
  • Best Breakfast Potatoes Ever: I also made these for the month–it makes a ton! I’m going to freeze them in portions and thaw as needed!

I served my family (and Sid’s best friend Ernie) fresh cinnamon rolls and breakfast potatoes this morning and they lost their minds! I am actually really good about making breakfasts during the week (we need to eat, and we’re not going out before Scott goes to work and Sid to school), but it is nice to be prepared, and I’m hoping this makes us less tempted to go out on the weekends. I do love going out to brunch.

That’s my update thus far! Feel free to throw tomatoes–I need a couple for next week anyway.

10 item wardrobe star wars murder she wrote

10-Item Winter 2017 Wardrobe: Murder!

Hey guys! I’ve finally put together my 10-item wardrobe for this winter, yay! It took me a little longer than I planned to put this post together because one, I was waiting on a black cardigan from ThredUp, and two, I had to make sure my clothes were clean before I took pictures. Ha.

So if you’ve read my blog in the past, you know I have a big thing for capsule wardrobes–I learned about the 10-item wardrobe from writer Jennifer L. Scott‘s Madame Chic books. Basically, you want to put together 10 “core” pieces that go well together: pants, dresses, blouses, sweaters, etc. Then you round it out with extras like t-shirts (I admit I have a lot of t-shirts right now, but when you see them you’ll understand why). The 10-item wardrobe does not include underwear, outerwear, or evening wear.

I’ve always wanted the perfect, packable wardrobe–something I could throw in a small suitcase and travel the world in, looking good (or at least acceptable) everywhere I go. This is seriously it. I take my 10-item wardrobe with me to Massachusetts every spring break to visit my husband’s family. It takes less than five minutes to pack and I’m good to go. And in my everyday life, it takes me like three minutes to get dressed. It’s awesome and I love it. So let’s look at the clothes!

img_0802

Plaid blouse by Rail.

This is a new purchase this year–I found it while shopping with my Mom. I love this shirt–it’s so soft and cozy, but it’s nice enough to go out to dinner.

10-Item Wardrobe

J. Crew Factory chambray shirt.

This shirt has been part of almost every one of my 10-item wardrobes from the very start (I did take it out of rotation to give it a rest). It’s still holding up well!

10-item wardrobe jeans

Citizens of Humanity “Sculpt – Rocket” high rise skinny jeans in Waverly.

I admit–my jeans are the most expensive part of my wardrobe. However, I wear them multiple times per week, so I really need high-quality jeans that will hold up. My last pair of Citizens of Humanity jeans lasted almost three years, so I’m doing my best to make sure these follow suit. They’re never going in the dryer! Anyway, it took me a moment to deal with the fact that these jeans go up to my waist–I’ve been wearing low-rise jeans for the past 15 years and I was a little worried this meant that I was Giving. Up. But they are insanely flattering, and it’s kind of nice to be able to sit without worrying that I’m flashing anyone. Bah, I have given up, noooooo!

10 item wardrobe jeans

Citizens of Humanity “Rocket – Sculpt” high rise skinny jeans in black.

Hey, when I find something that works I buy it in a second color. Citizens of Humanity jeans are also super comfy, which is a major plus, since I’m often sitting/squatting on the floor with my toddler.

10 item wardrobe Kenneth Cole black leggings

Kenneth Cole black leggings.

These are actually some leggings my Mom gave me for Christmas six or seven years ago that I rarely wore, but couldn’t bear to part with. I grew up in the ’80s, so I wore leggings the first time around, plus I kind of hate the leggings as pants trend. However. These are some good-looking leggings, plus I’ve started going to the gym on a regular basis. Paired with a t-shirt (see below) and my ancient sports bra from college (also rarely worn), I’ve got a workout outfit.

10 item wardrobe

Spider-Man sweatshirt, Forever 21.

This Spider-Man sweatshirt is also a long-time member of my various 10-item wardrobes, and it’s also part of my workout ensemble. I look really athletic and serious about fitness in it. Ha. I love this sweatshirt and will never part with it, neveeerrrrrr!

10 item wardrobe

Fisherman’s sweater, vintage.

I love this sweater, but I was thisclose to dropping it from my 10-item wardrobe. It’s so heavy and thick, but . . . it’s so heavy and thick! I don’t actually need a big wool sweater most of the time (I run hot), plus it’s a little uncomfortable under my trench coat. However! It is so pretty, and this winter has been a little colder than usual. I’ve been using it as a coat when it’s not raining.

10 item wardrobe black sweater H&M

H&M black cardigan with lace detail.

Because my fisherman’s sweater is so heavy, I felt like I needed a lighter cardigan to throw over my (many) t-shirts. But since I had already spent my Christmas and birthday money on things like jeans (see above), I didn’t want to spend a lot. I found this sweater on ThredUp, a site that sells used clothing online, for about $11. It arrived in like-new condition, and it works well with the rest of my wardrobe! I actually couldn’t tell it had lace on it when I bought it (black is hard to photograph), but I’m glad it does–it’s something I wouldn’t usually choose, and it adds a little extra interest to my wardrobe.

img_0804

Blue “chambray” dress, Twill.

I picked up this dress from Twill, a local boutique that sells cute, reasonably priced clothes. It fits really nicely and is comfortable–a big plus for me. I don’t generally wear a lot of dresses during the day in the winter, so I’ll pair this with tights or leggings.

10 item wardrobe topshop wrap dress

Topshop Star Plissé wrap dress.

This dress is awesome and insanely flattering. I wore it out for the first time this past weekend to the Image Comics welcome/anniversary party and I got a lot of compliments.

And now, the extras–aka I got a lot of cool t-shirts for my birthday and Christmas this year!

10 item wardrobe Madewell

Madewell t-shirts, white and gray.

These are great, basic t-shirts.

10 item wardrobe splendid

Splendid ringer t-shirt.

Geez! All my t-shirts look wrinkly but I am not ironing them, not even for you, dear reader. The fabric of this ringer tee is soft and thick–I love it.

10 item wardrobe

J. Crew Factory long-sleeved striped boatneck t-shirts.

Again, these are long-time loves of mine–they are the best! The navy-striped one is at least four years old and it looks great (I’m wearing it right now). I hang these to dry as well. You can buy them here!

10 item wardrobe star wars murder she wrote

Star Wars and Murder, She Wrote t-shirts.

My friends are the best, they buy me rad t-shirts that make me happy.

Phew! So here it is! I think this is my best 10-item wardrobe yet–I like how I can literally do anything from work out at the gym to go out at night in it, yet pretty much all the pieces go together nicely. It helps that I pretty much stick to neutrals, stripes, and nerd.

Have any of you tried out the capsule wardrobe? What do you think? Post below!

sushi

No-Dine-Out February?!?

sushi

Farewell, sweet sushi! Picture from Haru Sushi.

Reader, I swear this seemed like a great idea right after Christmas. Like most Americans, we had spent too much money. I (specifically) had eaten too much candy. I was feeling undisciplined. And wasteful! What better way to get back on track, I thought, than to pledge to not go out to eat for an entire month? February seemed like a good pick–the shortest month of the year, I don’t need to be a hero–but also, it seemed so far away, back in January! Now it’s here, and I need a plan.

Crunching the Numbers

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like it would be too much of a change–looking at our spending on Mint over the past six months, we go out to eat an average of 12 times per month. This usually includes:

  • 4-5 brunches (I admit, I love not cooking breakfast on the weekends)
  • 3-4 lunches (usually my husband, on those days I don’t pack him a lunch)
  • 3-4 dinners (either sushi, Burgerville, or pizza delivery)

Currently, eating out comprises about 33% of our monthly food bill, with groceries totaling 61.5% and coffee shops about 5%.

The Goal

My goal for this month: to virtually eliminate our restaurant expenses without increasing our overall food budget by more than 10%.

The Exceptions

One: we are going to Great Wolf Lodge for a night this month. While we’ll bring food for breakfast/snacks, we’ll most likely eat dinner there. Two: getting a coffee and a pastry at a coffee shop is allowed, but I’m going to try to limit that to once a week at the most. Three: if I go completely crazy and cannot bear to cook one night, we can go get Burgerville.

The Plan

This is where I’ll put my monthly meal plan to the ultimate test. I’ve been using it for a year, so I just need to make sure to populate it with food I’ll be excited to eat–and cook–all month long!

Looking at when and where we typically eat, I can clearly see my weak spots. First up: I honestly dislike making breakfast and enjoy going out on the weekends. The solution? I’ll add things like cinnamon rolls, bread pudding muffins, and individual egg breakfast cups to our monthly meal plan and freeze them–then I can put breakfast on the counter to thaw at night and warm it up in the morning!

Second: While I’m pretty good at packing lunches for my husband, I’ll need to be extra vigilant this month. Making them the night before is best–I’ll need to get back in the habit.

Third: It’s a little eerie how we almost only go out for (or get delivered) three things: sushi, Burgerville (a regional fast food restaurant here in the Pacific Northwest), and pizza (although we do get Thai occasionally). This is because if I’m going to go out, I’m going to get things I either can’t or don’t want to make myself (homemade pizza is a paaaaainnnn). So I’ll be experimenting with oshizushi (pressed sushi) this month. As for burgers, we’re already covered–I received the Bob’s Burgers Burger Book for Christmas, and we’ve pledged to try a new burger every other week (so Sid doesn’t miss out). As far as pizza, there’s always Totino’s. Aw yeah!

But What About Burnout?

Yes, I love to cook. But even I have nights I just don’t feel like cooking. To combat burnout, I’ll be stocking up on go-to convenience foods like Kraft macaroni and cheese, Campbell’s tomato soup (with grilled cheese, of course), fish sticks and tater tots, and Seven-Can Soup. But I’ll also be making big batches of soup and freezing them for last-minute dinners.

Valentine’s Day

Actually, I think it’s been years since I’ve gone out to dinner on Valentine’s Day. As a former server, I think that’s for suckers anyway–too busy, too expensive, etc. Instead, I’m going to follow a Valentine’s Day menu from Martha Stewart (although I’ll probably do cherry pie for dessert).

So . . . wish me luck! I promise I’ll come clean if I fail miserably. And if you have any tips for me, post them below!

Great Balls of Cheese

Happy Monday: Gilmore Girls, MSW & Cheese Balls

Great Balls of Cheese

Photo via Gluten Free Girl!

Happy Monday! It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these updates, but I’m delaying my Winter 2017 10-item wardrobe post until later this week. I decided I needed one more item, and I found something for $10 on ThredUp. Fingers crossed. To the links!

Current Events

The Women’s March took place this past Saturday, and estimates place attendance at 2.9 million. Even more amazingly–no arrests! I stayed home with Sarah here in Portland, but my husband went with our son and his former wife, and said it was an inspiring show of unity.

What got me a little choked up was seeing all of the Princess Leia-related Women’s March signs, especially so close to Carrie Fisher’s death. Carrie Fisher was an outspoken broad of the first order, and I feel like she would have approved.

What’s next? I thought The Atlantic had an interesting take, comparing the demonstration to previous protests in Russia and their aftereffects.

Cool Stuff

My amazing husband, Scott Allie, and our son Sid put together an epic Gilmore Girls/Murder, She Wrote crossover comic for me for my birthday, bringing Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Norton, Dave Stewart, and Nate Piekos together to help make it. It is one of the very best things I have ever received in my life. Sid wrote most of Jessica Fletcher’s dialogue himself! More details at Nerdist.

Gilmore Girls Murder She Wrote Comic

Amazing, right?

Every year for Christmas, my parents buy me a set of Soma pajamas and I love them so much. They are cute and comfortable and have pockets. This year I got some that are gray-and-white striped with a little silver, and I just noticed they are way on sale.

My friend Liza got me Great Balls of Cheese, a cookbook dedicated to cheese balls, and I am obsessed. I will make every single one of these!

Geekery

I’m expanding my role with GeekCraft Expo to include all of their upcoming shows (including some that haven’t been announced yet–yay!). I love being able to work with so many awesome crafters and see their nerdy goods! Exhibitor applications for GeekCraft Expo PDX 2017 are open until January 31, so make sure to fill yours out now!

I’ve also been really enjoying working with The Doubleclicks! You can check out their free online show 1/26 (with special guests the Library Bards), or catch their #NerdNightOut shows 2/11 in Seattle and 2/12 in Portland!

As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of podcast Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men. I’ve just been invited to guest-host again next month, I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, listen to their latest episode, which covers Excalibur’s Cross-Time Caper and the aftermath.

Phew! I hope you all are enjoying January. I must admit, I’m relieved to have the holidays over with. Portland got about 10 inches of snow and then some ice, which prolonged Sid’s Christmas vacation (which was actually pretty nice), but kept me housebound a little too long.

What have you been up to? Post below and say hi!

Confetti Bean Soup Jar Gift

Confetti Soup Mix Jar Gift & Recipe

Confetti Bean Soup Jar Gift

Confetti soup looks as pretty in a pot as it does in a jar!

Yes! I have finally given out 99.9% of my Christmas gifts (listen, we were all busy), so I can post pictures and how-tos without spoiling them! As you know, I love jar gifts, especially those with pretty layers, so I was excited to try this Confetti Soup Mix this year.

I have to say this was successful on all levels–it’s inexpensive, easy, pretty, and (most importantly) delicious! My directions to make the soup are a little different than Organized Christmas’s, so I thought I’d post them here. Also, I have some printable labels to share!

To Make the Confetti Soup Mix Jar Gift

You Need (to make 12 jars):

12 wide-mouth pint canning jars with lid and rings
3 cups each of seven different varieties of dried beans, peas, and lentils. I used the following, but you can use whatever you like:

  • Pink beans
  • Red lentils
  • Navy beans
  • Red kidney beans
  • Split peas
  • Black beans
  • Pinto beans

12 bouillon cubes (I used chicken and veggie)
12 bay leaves

Instructions

1. Wash and dry canning jars.
2. Layer beans in jars (this is especially easy with a canning funnel). Add 1/4 cup of each type of bean to the jars, layering the beans. Think about how the colors will look as you layer!
3. Place a bay leaf and a bouillon cube on top of the beans in each jar.
4. Seal each jar using lids and rings.
5. Add a label, if you like! My husband did the lettering for these and I scanned them into a template for these Avery round kraft labelsConfetti Soup Jar Labels.

Confetti Soup Mix Jar Gifts

Confetti Soup Mix in a jar! Pretty!

Recipe for Confetti Bean Soup

You Need (four servings):

Confetti Soup Mix
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
6 cups of liquid–I used 4 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water
14-oz can chopped tomatoes in juice
Dried oregano and basil (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Remove and set aside the bay leaf and bouillon cube. Soak the beans in salted water overnight, or bring beans to a boil and let sit for one hour. Drain the beans.

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and add the onion and garlic. Saute, stirring frequently, until softened. Add the remaining ingredients except for salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about two hours.

Taste, then season with salt and pepper.

These are perfect for Christmas, hostess, and teacher gifts–and since beans are pretty much non-perishable, you can make a batch and keep them on hand!

Has anyone given this a try? Post below!