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!

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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!

10 item wardrobe

10 Item Wardrobe Prep: Winter 2017

Sometimes I hate the 10-item wardrobe. Don’t get me wrong: having 10 core pieces (pants, sweaters, dresses, etc.) and extras (t-shirts) that look great together and fit my personal style is amazing! I can get dressed in three minutes, I always at least look presentable, and it’s really easy to pack for trips. However. When you are in the habit of saving your Christmas and birthday money and doing your major shopping in January, and three of your 10 items (two pairs of three-year-old jeans and one pair of red pants) go kaput in October, you start to look pretty shabby.

I was able to still wear my old black jeans and sub in my light-blue summer jeans from J Crew Factory, but then I realized that my t-shirts were looking pretty worn out. Then one day, I took out my APC sweater dress–purchased just two years ago–and realized that despite my special care, it had become shapeless and unflattering. What was happening?!? I basically wore my striped J Crew Factory shirts and my worn-thin black jeans for two months straight. When I wasn’t dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus.

The good new is: I went shopping today with my Mom! And, just like in Pretty Woman, I had money to spend, thanks to my weekly savings plan (I sock away a little money every week to buy the whole family clothes) and gift money. Thank you parents and in-laws!

I’m waiting on one pair of jeans to be delivered, so in the meantime, I’m going to go through last winter’s 10-item wardrobe and talk about what worked, what didn’t, and what should die in a fire. Then next week, I’ll have a shiny new post unveiling my new duds! I’m sure you’re all very excited.

10 item wardrobe

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

If you’re a regular reader of these 10-item wardrobe posts, you recognize these shirts–they just keep going and going! Seriously, I’ve had the navy-striped one for at least three years and it shows no sign of wearing out (pro tip: I always hang these to dry). I may actually get sick of these! Definitely staying (but I really count these as extras).

10 item wardrobe

Thread & Supply blue “menswear” shirt.

I feel a little guilty looking at this one. I got it last year from my parents for my birthday while shopping with my Mom (thanks again!) but while I wore it a fair amount this summer, I totally forgot about it. Gonna have to try it on and see if it’s worthy to be one of the 10, or I may just keep it for when I need to look business-y. It’s a maybe.

10 item wardrobe

Spider-Man sweatshirt, Forever 21.

This is another item that’s still going strong! I bought it in San Diego during Comic-Con 2013, the final one I worked as an employee of Things From Another World–but not at Comic-Con, weirdly enough. Not only does this sweatshirt feature Spider-Man (its initial selling point), but it’s the perfect size and weight. Also, a great conversation starter. It’s staying!

10 item wardrobe

Halogen grey wool-blend sweater with embroidery.

I like this a lot–the look, the weight, the fit–but it isn’t wearing as nicely as I would like. I’ve laid it flat to dry but it’s still pilling. It’s staying this year, but we’ll see for next.

10 item wardrobe

Red and gray J Crew Factory sweater with gold polka dots

Ditto for this one–I still like it, but it’s pilling. Maybe it’s me? Likely will stay for 2017.

10 item wardrobe

J Crew Factory jeans.

These jeans are great, but it’s weird that I had them in my “winter” 10-item wardrobe last year. I’ve been wearing them this winter until I got new jeans, but I’ll put them away until this summer.

10 item wardrobe

J. Crew Factory red tailored stretch Lexie pant.

These . . . did not stretch the way I needed them to. They’ve either shrunk a bit or I’ve put on five pounds. I’m not going to say which. They also faded (typical for red fabric), so they’re gone!

10 item wardrobe

Vince black ponte pants.

I still like these pants, but they’re a maybe. They tend to stretch out and get baggy as I wear them. If I wash them and put them in the dryer they shrink up again, but I feel like they’ll wear out faster that way.

10 item wardrobe

APC sweater dress.

Ack–no! I have been very disappointed by this dress, which I bought on sale a couple years ago. You can kind of see it here–despite my keeping it folded in a drawer and dry-cleaning it (a rarity for me), it has . . . relaxed? It’s baggy and shapeless, and I give up. I give up!

10 item wardrobe

Fisherman’s sweater, vintage.

Oh man. I still love this, but it had a couple of moth holes when I bought it. I repaired them, but either more keep happening or I’m discovering more! Also, it’s very thick and heavy, so it’s bulky under my coat, and I run hot and tend to not need a sweater as warm as this one. A maybe.

Final verdict: three maybes, and three no’s–leaving a possible six slots open in my highly competitive, breathlessly anticipated 10-item winter wardrobe! Do you feel the excitement? Gee, I hope people don’t bet their entire fortunes on the outcome.

As always, I must credit Jennifer L. Scott, author of the Madame Chic books, for her 10-item wardrobe inspiration! See you next week!

Baby Essentials Checklist

Ultimate New Baby Registry Checklist

Baby Essentials Checklist

Pack N Play, $20 (from Craigslist). Being able to take your baby camping? Priceless.

Here it is, expectant parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles: my ultimate list of baby essentials. This spreadsheet has been emailed around my circle of friends and family and I always get requests when I mention it, so I decided to update it and post it for everyone!

I first made this baby checklist when my brother and his wife were expecting their first child–originally, it was a list of things I had to give them (since I had Sarah the year before ), plus my own recommendations based on my own experience.

Note: I am not claiming any special authority on child safety, etc. Standards change, recalls happen. Please do your own independent research.

Also, the last thing I want is to come off like a bargain basement Gwyneth Paltrow. I’m sure many parents have raised their wonderful children with less stuff. Also, I encourage you to ask around to see if any friends have baby stuff to hand down (most parents can’t wait to get rid of it) or check Craigslist. If you’re buying secondhand, do your due diligence for safety concerns, especially for things like car seats. IKEA also has many safe, low-cost baby options.

This list does not cover:

  • Clothes (You will get so many, most likely in newborn sizes. Most of these items will not be worn by your wiggly baby–I do recommend Carter’s Sleep & Play outfits for ease of use.)
  • Toys (You will also get so many.)
  • Books (This is a personal choice between you and your bookstore.)
  • Stuff for Mommy (Although I swear by this type of nursing bra.)

Optional stuff:

  • Two things are marked with asterisks–the infant rocker and bouncer. This is because every baby is different. Mine loved the rocker, my brother’s son loved the bouncer. My advice: start cheap and work your way up.

For heaven’s sake just give us the link to the spreadsheet:

I would love your feedback on this spreadsheet–is there anything essential I missed? Anything that worked like magic for your baby? Post below!

Christmas Detox: Holiday China Edition

So what, Christmas decorations can go up in stores before Halloween, but we’re just supposed to stop December 26? In the immortal words of Cher Horowitz, I don’t think so. I’ve been wanting to do a post on my Christmas china for awhile–I do so love it, and I have so much, but I’ve hesitated because I worried that it was too self-indulgent. Then I realized that having my own blog was pretty self-indulgent, so why not?

I had a lot of fun taking pictures of everything before I put it away until (sigh) next December–I hope you enjoy!

Lenox Holiday China

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For me, Lenox Holiday is the gold standard, the ne plus ultra of Christmas china. For years, I eyed it like a future junkie: “I’ll certainly never buy that, that would be ridiculous! Ha!” I knew I’d only be able to hold out so long. I finally started collecting it after I made a little deal with myself: I would start slow (buying two place settings on sale), and I would use it for every meal, every day in December.

This justification was aided by the fact that Lenox Holiday is basically a holly-festooned version of my wedding china, Eternal, so I could mix and match the pieces until I gathered a full set. I currently have eight place settings, thanks in large part to my Mom, who has also donated to the “cause.”

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Um, as you can see, I didn’t stop with the place setting (see also: the adorable Santa train salt and pepper shakers, above). I have more Holiday serving pieces than Eternal (I actually have none for that), because Holiday goes way on sale around the holidays, and Eternal never does! Get that wedding registry money, Macy’s–you jerks! But. I love these, and I generally entertain a lot around the holidays, so I use them a lot.

Rosanna Twelve Days of Christmas & More

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While the Lenox Holiday is my drug of choice, my gateway plates are from Rosanna, a Seattle company that designs delightful tableware. I believe I first saw these 12 Days of Christmas appetizer plates in Martha Stewart, and they’re still available on the Rosanna site! A real bonus: Rosanna packages their wares in collectible boxes that are cute and actually useful for storage.

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Yes, there’s more. Listen, I can stop whenever I want. These three items were all presents from my brother, who raided Rosanna’s Jolly Holiday collection. Unfortunately, these are no longer available on the site. I use the small tray for cookies for “Santa,” and the plates and mugs for snacks and hot chocolate.

Thrift/Unknown

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I got this large vintage plastic (melamine?) tray at a thrift store a long time ago and I love it. The pearlized plastic is embedded with flecks of silver, and it’s unbreakable. Thrift and vintage stores can be a great source of holiday china and serve ware–garage and estate sales, too!

When I see my holiday china all laid out like this, 50% of me is embarrassed and the other 50% wants to roll around on it like Indecent Proposal (weird, also: ouch). But I love it so much: I love the holidays, and entertaining, and family traditions, and I love having something special to use in December. I look at my china and I see decades of holidays around the table, and it makes me very happy.

I’m gonna close with another shot of salt-and-pepper Santa! Thanks for reading about my jolly folly!

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I Hate Taking Down Christmas

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As soon as I touch this, the remaining needles are gonna hit the floor. Help me Hellboy!

It was about 6:00 last night when I realized that–ugh–garbage and recycling pickup was the next morning, which meant I needed to buckle down and get our once-beautiful Christmas tree out to the curb. This was made easier by the fact that our tree had completely dried out and only weighed about five pounds, but still: I hate taking down Christmas.

Preparing for Christmas is magical–getting out the decorations! Picking the tree! Lovingly reminiscing over ornaments! Your family members join in, because we’re making beautiful memories we’ll cherish forever!

Putting Christmas away is drag. Why do we keep some of these hideous ornaments? Can I get rid of them without anyone noticing? Why did I put so many lights on the tree? Is there any way to take them off without taking out half the branches (answer: science is working on it)? As I grimly wound hundreds of tiny lights and stuffed them back into their boxes, a traitorous, non-Christmassy though invaded my head: what if we didn’t do a Christmas tree next year?

What has happened to me? Along with my brother, I’m the most Christmassy jerk I know! But trees are expensive. And messy. And wasteful. And I hate doing the lights. But I won’t let anyone else do the lights. And our house is small. And WARM (hence the extra-crispy needles all over the house).

Every year about this time, I have a very special fantasy. Close your eyes, Mom! Just kidding. I think about artificial Christmas trees: beautiful, non-shedding, pre-lit Christmas trees that are perfectly shaped and can hold those super-heavy ornaments that came from god-knows-where. But then I sigh and realize I don’t have the space to store one–that’s why I keep our artificial garlands up all year long (also: I’m a Christmassy jerk, see above).

I know that I have a year to regain my Christmas spirit. Sid loves doing the tree (and is getting pretty good at helping with the lights). Sarah is only two–I certainly can’t deprive her of these precious Christmas traditions (I can’t, right?!?). But today, I still have a whole house of ho-ho-ho to stuff under the beds. Maybe some holiday music would help . . .