Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Golden Birthday, John!

Today is John's 27th and "golden" birthday, so I thought I'd pop in to wish him a "happy birthday" and post an embarrassing picture.

This is John dancing to Shakira with his Shake Weight after our sibling Christmas dinner. Yes, we have a Shake Weight. John's friend from college sent it as an anniversary present. And since I'm sure he'd like me to post something a little more manly, here's a picture from the Kansas City half marathon.

Happy birthday, John! I love you!
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, dear readers. I hope you're enjoying time with family and friends. I'll be spending Christmas with John's family. I might pop in between now and New Year's, but will most likely lay low and recover from my Christmas cookie coma :)
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Pour Some Sugar on Cookies

Hopefully by the time you read this post, I will have finally started my Christmas baking. It seems like the oven isn't completely out of commission. We used it on Tuesday night and it seemed to work just fine without the outer glass panel. The panel appears to be decorative and used as a counterweight for the oven door. The inner window is still intact and everything is properly insulated.

So back to more important things. Christmas cookies! John had previously requested sugar cookies with colored sugar sprinkled on the top. I wasn't about to shell out the big bucks for tiny containers of red and green sugar. And you shouldn't either since you probably have everything you need to make your own. Or if you don't, the supplies will still cost you less than the little tubes of colored sugar. It's also perfect if you want to make custom colors.

(Yes, another gratuitous picture with the Christmas tree)
-White sugar
-Liquid food coloring (I used McCormick, nothing fancy)

-Pour some sugar in a plastic bag.
-Drip some liquid food coloring on the sugar in your color of choice. Try two or so drops at a time.
-Zip up the bag and shake vigorously for about 1 minute. Also try squishing and kneading the bag with your fingers to get the color evenly distributed.
-Adjust color with additional food coloring and repeat if the color is too light.

I made about a half cup of red sugar using approximately 8 drops. A half cup of green sugar needed about 5 drops of food coloring.

Then you can decorate cookies (or cupcakes) to your heart's content :)

What's your favorite Christmas cookie?
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

O Christmas Ale!

Hi there! Ready for Christmas yet? This past week has been pretty eventful and I'm still working on last minute details. I haven't baked any cookies because we busted the outer glass panel of our oven door on Sunday while bottling beer. Ugh!! I might still give it a try.

Speaking of beer (and as I hinted previously), one of my favorite things about Christmastime is the arrival of Great Lakes Brewing Company's Christmas Ale. This festive ale is brewed with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. And is seriously addictive. People start hoarding cases once it's available for sale. Just ask Piper. Last year, The Plain Dealer ran an article about Christmas Ale and disclosed that "Dortmunder accounts for 35 percent of sales. Christmas Ale is 20 percent, but is only on sale for 8 weeks." From GLBC's blog:
This season, GLBC will produce around 255 batches of Christmas Ale (approximately 19,125 barrels). We will use approximately 165,000 lbs of honey (which costs GLBC more than $250,000!) and 5,500 lbs each of ginger and cinnamon. Production is up 21% over last year, and it’s still not enough to keep up with demand.

Not only does GLBC make awesome products, but they're an "environmentally and socially conscious brewer." Here are a few of their sustainability projects:
  • GLBC's Burning River Foundation is a non-profit organization whose purpose through grants, donations and community involvement is to provide extensive education and resources for the ecological conservation, environmental protection, scientific exploration, historic preservation, and sustainable future of our waterways.
  • GLBC sends spent grains from the brewing process to its Pint Size Farm and the Ohio City Farm as fertilizer to organically grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers for use in their brewpub.  
  • Their beer delivery truck and “Fatty Wagon” shuttle bus run on straight vegetable oil - a renewable fuel made from their reclaimed and filtered restaurant oil.

  • The Beer Garden includes a radiant heat fireplace and floor, a straw bale wall and ten foot high sliding glass doors.
  • In the winter, the Brewery cooler brings in chilly outdoor air to cool the beer (thanks, Cleveland), while skylights and light sensors maximize natural light to minimize electricity use. The Brewpub features 12 solar thermal panels and an energy efficient boiler that heat water for brewing and restaurant use.
  • Their low-fill beers (unsellable bottles because they’re not filled to the maximum level) are used in a number of items including soups, marinades, sauces, chocolate truffles, sausages and soaps. In fact, thier low-fill porters are sent to Mitchell’s Ice Cream to make their exclusive Edmund Fitzgerald Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream.
  • GLBC recycles everything they can (even their recycling bins, if possible): cardboard, glass, plastic, steel/aluminum, paper, hops and brewer’s barley. They print all newsletters, menus, beverage napkins and promotional items on recycled paper. And all packaging includes recycled content. Their intention is to become a true zero waste Brewery.
Finally, Great Lakes Brewing Company is making an impact on Cleveland's economy. Over the past summer they made $7M of major capital improvements to their brewery. Plus, they added 15 newly created jobs during the year and hope to add at least 9 more jobs over the next couple of years.

Have I convinced you yet? And did I mention that they're Ohio's most celebrated and award-winning brewer? One of the perks of living in Chicago is that GLBC beer is available here. Their market includes the Great Lakes states and they're slowing expanding. Check out GLBC's Beer Finder to see if it's for sale at your local bar or store.
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A (Last Minute) Foodie's Gift Guide

As I'm sure you're well aware, Christmas is just under a week away....eek! Are you done with your shopping? I'm not. I have a few more things to pick up and ship on Monday. Let's hope they make it to their respective locations by Christmas!

While I know that Christmas is all about celebrating the birth of Jesus, I also enjoy spending time with family, baking cookies, and finding the perfect gifts. Here are a few tips for giving great gifts (even a few last minute ones).

Know Your Giftee
The perfect gift has the giftee's interests in mind. What's their "thing"? What makes them tick? Don't just buy them something that you'd like to receive. I know I have some running gear on my Christmas list, but if I bought that for a friend, she might think I'm telling her she's had too much eggnog. Not a good idea.

Or go beyond the mundane and make it a themed gift based around the giftee's interests. They're fun to put together and are more personal. They show that you've been paying attention to the other person's interests. For example, two years ago for I wanted to take John to Denver for his birthday (not right then, just at some point during the year). He'd been talking it up, so I got him giftcards for Southwest Airlines. Since that was a little boring on its own, I strung the cards on ribbon and put them on bottles of microbrews from Colorado.

When in doubt, food does the trick. Here's a last minute food-themed gift guide. These are perfect for last minute gifts or even hostess gifts. Get creative at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or even your local grocery store.

Salad Dressing Mixer + Olive Oil + Vinegar

salad dressing mixer ($15)
olive oil ($17)
balsamic vinegar ($10)

Love salads, but feeling a little uninspired with the dressing selection at the grocery store? John introduced me to homemade vinaigrettes and I haven't gone back. Pick up some extra virgin or flavored olive oil, a cool bottle of vinegar (I prefer balsamic), and one of these salad dressing mixers from Crate & Barrel. A few stirs later and you have a fresh vinegarette. John's sister has one of these and it's pretty fun to use. Plus, there are recipes on the side of the mixer.

Cheese Board + Cheese

cheese board ($38)
These cheese boards come in every state or you can custom order one. Why not give one of Italy and pair it with some Italian cheese and wine? (Unfortunately it's too late for Christmas)

Cookbook + (Ingredients or Item Baked from the Book)

Pick up a cookbook and make or bake something from the book. Or if your cooking skills are lacking, pick up the ingredients for a recipe that you think the giftee would love. My "go to" cookbook is The Joy of Cooking. But feel free to get something a little more personal: a cookbook from a favorite chef, cuisine, desserts, etc.

Espresso Maker + Coffee Beans + Mug

espresso maker (starting at $20)
coffee (starting at $10/lb)
monogrammed mug ($6)

This espresso maker is on my list this year since I like lattes, but don't enjoy the price. Pair the espresso maker with some beans and a mug for the coffee connoisseur in your life. Here's how to use the stove top espresso maker.

Champagne Flutes + Champagne

flutes ($6/glass)
Spanish cava ($8)

Who doesn't enjoy a glass of bubbly on occasion? If French champagne is out of your budget, try Spanish cava or Italian prosecco.

Glasses + Beer

glasses ($31 for 4)
beer ($9)

For the beer drinker in your life, pick up a six-pack of their favorite microbrew. If you're feeling particularly generous, get them a membership to a beer of the month club ($23/month). 4 different beers (12 bottles in total) will be delivered each month.

Cookies + (Bowl or Plate)

loomed bowl ($14)
trifle bowl ($30)
flame leaf bowl ($16)
petit four tray ($46)
fleur de lys serving bowl ($38)
bone strawberry basket ($20)

If you can hold your own against an oven, why not bake the giftee's favorite dessert? Present it in a cute serving bowl or plate for them to use during the year. Not so good at baking? Pick up some cookies, cupcakes, or candies.

Best of luck wrapping up your Christmas shopping. Hopefully you found a few useful ideas. And seriously, keep the recipient's interests in mind. You don't want to have a "Father of the Bride" blender moment!
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Caulk it Up as a Win

How's everyone doing? Hopefully keeping warm. All sorts of snow fell on the Midwest over the weekend and it seems like the cold temperatures are dipping south. Which leads me to a follow-up tip for the Chicago winter survival guide. Weather stripping your windows! What, you were expecting something a little more exciting?

Our apartment building is probably 100+ years old and the windows don't have an airtight seal. A cheap and easy way to fix that is using rope caulk. It's like a giant roll of the sticky tack you used to hang Justin Timberlake posters in your high school bedroom.

Here are the easy to install instructions:
  1. Clean and dry surfaces.
  2. Peel off the number of strands of rope caulk necessary to fill the crack.
  3. Press in place with fingertips for tight seal.
That's it!

The box said it should seal 6 "average" windows. John and I caulked about 4 windows using a 90 foot roll, but ours are a little on the tall side. The rope caulk comes in white and brown (at least at our local Ace Hardware) and the 90 foot roll cost about $7.

Do you have any tips for winter-proofing your home?
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Friday, December 10, 2010

One Year in Chicago

This past weekend was my one year anniversary in Chicago. As luck would have it, both weekends marked the first real snowfall of the year. Although I grew up in Cleveland with my fair share of lake effect snow, the past seven years in St. Louis were pretty mild in comparison. So I wasn't ready for the brutal wind, snow, and ice. Here's what I need to survive a Chicago winter. Also known as: "things I wish I had or knew before moving to Chicago." See also: "things you can give people for Christmas that live in the arctic tundra."

Super poof
My first recommendation is a long, warm puffer coat. Or what I fondly refer to as my "super poof." (My puffer vest is "mini poof") When the wind is blowing, it's not about being fashionable. It's about keeping warm! And I have no shame in looking like Randy from "A Christmas Story." (Favorite Christmas movie ever! It was filmed in Cleveland) Fortunately, there are some stylish coats out there. I have last year's version of this coat from Eddie Bauer. $199, but I bought mine at their after-Christmas sale last year for less.

Hunter boots, welly socks, and Lush foot powder

welly socks

Since I do a fair share of walking through the snow, slush, and muck in the city, winter boots are a must. For now, I only have a pair of Hunter boots with the fleece welly sock liners. You might be thinking to yourself, "Cathy, do I really need a pair of Hunter boots? They cost twice as much as a normal pair of rain boots." And I will say, "Yes, loyal reader, Hunter boots are the best thing since sliced bread. I first had a pair of generic rain boots and the rubber split within a month. I returned them and used the credit to buy Hunter boots. Buy the quality piece and you won't have to buy another for several years." Fleece welly socks will keep you extra warm and Lush's "T for Toes" foot powder will keep your feet and boots stink- and bacteria-free. Boots $125, Socks $30, Powder $10.95


Fact: I don't enjoy blow drying and 'doing' my hair. I'd rather spend the extra time sleeping in the morning. So I generally pull it back. Blame it on the years of swim practice before school. Anyways, hats can be a little awkward and too small if my hair's pulled back. Enter, the 180's. Like earmuffs, but a little warmer, adjustable, and more secure. I lost my pair from last year, so I'm hoping Santa will bring me some new ones.


Did you know that Chicago has a maze of underground tunnels connecting a good portion of the Loop? I didn't before moving here. While not a big as Minneapolis/St. Paul's Skyway system, the Pedway will help you avoid some of the weather (cold, heat, rain) and pedestrian traffic.

Crack coffee

Nothing's better than a warm cup of coffee in the morning. Especially while waiting for the L. Or on the weekend. Or during brunch. get the point. I profess my love for The Coffee & Tea Exchange here. Get your own crack coffee there. Beans start at $9.99/pound.

Slips with the fur

While I don't own Ugg boots, I am a proud owner of some Ugg Dakota slippers. Hardwood floors make for chilly walking in the mornings. I've had mine for 2 years and they're holding up just fine (except for a seam that I had to sew up). I made a believer out of John and bought him a pair for Christmas last year. This is another high quality piece totally worth the $100. Find your perfect pair here.

Alpaca throw blanket

Here's a random fact about my family. We own alpacas. No, I didn't grow up on a farm. Yes, they're relatives of llamas. And their fleece makes killer scarves, socks, sweaters, and throw blankets. My sister knit one for us for Christmas last year and it's the warmest.thing.ever! John and I may or may not fight over who gets to use the blanket. So sis, would you mind making us another???

Aveda's Hand Relief

Hands down, Aveda's Hand Relief is the best hand lotion ever! And yes, pun intended :) Aveda's not lying when they say, "revitalizing vitamin formula for stressed skin." Between the cold weather and hand washing, I can keep my hands as smooth as a baby's bottom with this lotion. I keep one tube at work and another one at home. Yes, $19 is a little steep for hand lotion, but a little bit goes a long way and it's totally worth it.

What are your winter essentials? Anyone know of a good face lotion? I think my face is going to fall off from the wind. If you live somewhere warm, please don't tell me.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

To the Dreamers


As I'm editing this post, I'm watching Disney's "Ratatouille." We made coq au vin (a French dish of chicken cooked in red wine) for dinner last night and I've wanted to watch this movie ever since. Remy, the main character, dreams of becoming a renowned French chef and is torn between his family's wishes and his true calling. I guess it's appropriate since I needed some sort of finishing touch for this post.

There is excellence all around you. You need only to be aware to stop and savor it.      --Gusteau, from "Ratatouille"
While driving back to Chicago after Thanksgiving, John brought up a good point about the blog. Right now, my tagline is "Saving Money with Style." He suggested that I expand on that thought since saving money and spending it wisely can only go so far. Unless you make some changes, your funds are limited.

So what can you do? Begin creating wealth. It can be something as simple as putting funds in an interest bearing savings account or starting to invest. can do something a little more dramatic. Like inventing a new product or starting your own business. Not only is that beneficial to you and your family, but it also helps improve the economy.

There was a story 
on NPR's "Marketplace" a few weeks ago that talked about this very thing. Robert Litan of the Kauffman Foundation has analyzed statistics on job-creation going back to 1980. Per Litan, "Start-ups, companies that are in their first five years of life, account for virtually all net job growth in the United States economy. The existing firms' job creation is more or less offset by the destruction of jobs. The really only way we're really adding jobs over time, on net, is through the constant influx of these new firms." Specifically, it's innovative start-ups designing new products or processes that make the biggest difference. These products can lead to entirely new industries. Think of the invention of the computer or the Internet. Or what about Groupon? Groupon has only been in existance for 2 years, and Google wanted to buy them for $6 billion!

But don't be overwhelmed if you don't have the next Google or iPhone waiting to be discovered in your back pocket. I want to encourage all of you with entrepreneurial aspirations to keep dreaming and follow your passions. Niki 
coined the term “Midnight Hustlers” for this band of entrepreneurs growing their businesses late at night, early in the morning, and on the weekends. If you need some inspiration, you can read interviews with a few Midnight Hustlers on Makeunder My Life. Who knows where the future will take you. You might even surprise yourself!
You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true - anyone can cook... but only the fearless can be great.            --Gusteau, from "Ratatouille"

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Slow Return

Hi friends. I'm back, but not totally back into the swing of things. The extra long holiday weekend was extremely relaxing and I'm finding it a little difficult to get back into my routine. Be it work, running, blogging, cleaning, what have you. Waking up to an alarm clock was a bit brutal. I take that back. Monday mornings aren't my favorite in general.

So what did I do over the weekend? John and I ran a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. 5 chilly, drizzly miles. The time wasn't anything spectacular, but it was a big improvement from two years ago. After that race I felt nauseous and of course my extended family thought I was pregnant. We had only been married for two months, so of course they wanted to jump to conclusions. But nope, I was only a little out of shape and had overexerted myself.

We obviously enjoyed copious amounts of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pies, and family time. And no, John didn't make stuffing from scratch. Stove Top stuffing prevailed! Though we did make garlic mashed potatoes from scratch.

My uncles hard at work carving the turkeys
And we did go shopping on Black Friday. The deals were just too good to pass up! And it was probably a good idea to try to walk off dinner from the night before. I didn't find anything for myself, but there were things for John and other family members.

Then there was the Christmas Ale! I'll tell you more about the allure of this festive brew later, but let's just say that it's worth the trip to 7 different stores in search of it. (Yes, my parents thought I was crazy.) We even took a tour of Great Lakes Brewing Company while they were brewing my favorite ale.

The weekend ended with a little homebrewing in our kitchen and getting into the Christmas spirit. We bought a little tree and I decorated it (and the windows) with 450 lights. What? I'm a girl that likes sparkly things. Our Nativity scene is also out on the top of the entertainment unit.

What about you? How long does it take you to get back into the groove after a long weekend or vacation?
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy (early) Thanksgiving

Since I couldn't find any Thanksgiving family pictures to share, I thought I would do the next best thing. Post an embarrassing picture of my sister and I from Halloween. I was Indian Corn so it's still Thanksgiving appropriate. And you can't have Thanksgiving without wine. And you can't have wine without grapes. It makes perfect sense.

We're heading home to Cleveland to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Dinner is always at my parents' house and I can't wait to help cook and bake. The last time I saw them was in October for the marathon and my cousin's wedding.

Hope you all have a restful holiday. Anyone crazy enough to venture out for Black Friday sales?

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Buying Happiness: Part 2


Miss me? Things have been a little hectic again. But don't worry, I won't leave you out in the cold.

For some reason, I started to receive "Women's Health" in the mail. I didn't subscribe to it and I don't know of anybody that sent it to me. The October and November 2010 issues just showed up in the mailbox last weekend.

No complaints from me as there are some pretty entertaining articles and random facts within their pages. For example, did you know that hidden fiber in foods might be causing belly bloating? "Food companies are spiking everything with inulin, a type of fiber made from chicory root that brings down the fat content. Aim to get most of your fiber from fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and legumes," says Joanne Slavin, R.D., of the University of Minnesota at St. Paul.

Anyways, the November 2010 issue had an article entitled "Mad Money." The basic premise of the article is that money can make people do crazy things, especially large sums of money. Literally. Studies have shown that people hate parting with money much more than they enjoy gaining an equal amount. The phenomenon, called loss aversion, was first recognized by two psychologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1979.

Fear and anxiety cause a part of the brain to react to adverse situations, like plummeting stock prices. Think of the "fight-or-flight response."  This impulse can cause you to make snap decisions since your brain is trying to protect you. So how does this affect your portfolio? Most people are wired to avoid loss, so this reaction tends to make us bad investors. Instead of holding onto stocks during temporary market fluctuations, people will sell the winners and hold on to the losers. Why? "Because admitting the loss hurts too much," says Jason Zweig, author of Your Money & Your Brain. So buy low, sell high, and cut your losses on the duds. Easier said than done, but at least think twice before making rash decisions that could seriously impact your financial health.

That's interesting enough, but I think the best parts of the article discussed how to handle money. And it brought up many points that relate to my first "Buying Happiness" post.

"Where money is concerned, people tend to do two things over and over", says Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. "First, we adapt to how much money we have. Second, we compare ourselves with others. Chances are, if you make an irrational decision about money, one or both of those factors are in play." So what do you do when you get a raise or a bonus? Instead of increasing spending, create an automatic transfer that moves the increase in pay from checking to savings or investing. When you make savings automatic, you won't even miss the additional money. You'll actually have more to use down the line. Or use those funds to pay off your student loan, car, or mortgage a little sooner.

And here's a consideration for those looking to win the lottery or become the next billionaire. A Roper study conducted for Jean Chatzky's book The Ten Commandments of Financial Happiness revealed that what you need to feel happy is enough cash to live comfortably—not lavishly, just comfortably. More money than that won't buy more happiness. "Understand this," says Bert Whitehead, author of Why Smart People Do Stupid Things with Money, "and you can quite possibly control your brain and avoid nutty behavior. The true definition of financial independence is knowing how much is enough."

Brilliant! And quite timely since it's almost Thanksgiving. I take my financial independence for granted at times, so it's good to hear this reminder. I'm definitely thankful for our jobs that help put a roof over our heads, food on the table, and warm clothes on our bodies.
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Wannabe Pumpkin Pie

You know how I said I was still trying to figure things out? I am, but I can't quit posting recipes. I love food and baking too much.

If you were wondering about what I baked on Saturday afternoon, it was pumpkin bread pudding. I was craving pumpkin and fall flavors such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Blame it on Starbuck's and an at-home version of the Pumpkin Latte from Daily Nibbles via Eat Live Run's Thanksgiving recipe swap. Seriously, I might have to buy a small Bialetti espresso maker.

To satisfy pumpkin cravings, the first recipe that comes to mind is obviously pumpkin pie. Unfortunately, John doesn't like the texture, so that's out. Bourbon pumpkin cheesecake? Nope, John doesn't really like cheesecake or cream cheese in general. I considered pumpkin cupcakes for about 0.2 seconds, but I didn't want a dozen cupcakes sitting around my apartment. It's not like I'm currently training for a marathon.

What to do? Of course, Martha Stewart has the answer. The "food" portion of her website had a whole gallery devoted to pumpkin desserts. Pumpkin jackpot! Ultimately I settled on the pumpkin bread pudding (which was approved by John), but there were also unique twists on pumpkin pie, pumpkin flan, pumpkin cake, and all sorts of other goodies.

Don't tell John, but the bread pudding was pretty darn similar to pumpkin pie. Probably because they share many of the same ingredients. And if you were wondering, yes, the leftovers are great for breakfast the next day :)

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Butter or cooking spray, for baking dish

1 baguette (8 ounces), sliced 1/2 inch thick
4 large eggs
1 quart half-and-half
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
3/8 tsp allspice
3/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

1.Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter or spray an 8-inch square or 2-quart shallow baking dish; set aside.
2. Toast bread on a baking sheet in oven, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven.
3.In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, pumpkin puree, brown sugar, spices, vanilla, and salt.

4. Add toasted bread; cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto surface. Place a plate small enough to fit inside bowl on top of plastic; weight with a large canned good. Let soak until bread is saturated, about 25 minutes.

5.Transfer mixture to prepared dish, spreading evenly. Bake on a baking sheet until firm and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 60 to 70 minutes.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioners' sugar and topped.

-I didn't bake the bread pudding right away. I put the soaked bread and some of the extra half-and-half mixture in my baking dish and let the bread continue to soak for about 3 hours before baking.
-Don't have those individual spices? Use one tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice.
-Martha says, "It's very important to make sure the bread soaks up the flavorful custard to ensure a velvety consistency."

Do you crave certain foods based on the seasons? Anyone else have an aversion to pumpkin pie?
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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thanks :)

Hi, friends. Thanks for all of your encouragement over the past couple of days. It seems like many bloggers have a little trouble getting into their groove in the beginning. Plus, I'm a perfectionist, so I don't want to post random stuff just to put something out there.

I should have some new things for you next week. Until then, enjoy the weekend. Anybody have fun plans? I might bake a pie or cupcakes this afternoon. Or maybe Martha's pumpkin bread pudding. We'll see!


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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Personal vs. Professional Life

In keeping with the somewhat serious tone from the last post, I thought I would delve into a topic that people say shouldn't be discussed in public: religion. I figured as long as I'm talking about money (another topic that is shunned in public), I might as well make things a little more interesting. As we already determined, I'm Catholic. I want to be a good person. I want to serve others. I was once asked what being "simply Catholic" meant to me. I thought of it as "living simply." Living within your means. Not wasting your gifts or resources. Sharing your excess good fortunes with others.

But I'm also an accountant. I have this gift and talent with business and numbers. In the business realm, it seems like "greed is good" (Wall Street), self-interest prevails, and capitalism leads to unfair competition. In my mind, there always seemed to be a disconnect between my personal life and professional life. That being Catholic and successful was mutually exclusive.

Fortunately, I am wrong. (How hard is that to say?)

I started to learn about the integration of Judeo-Christian truths with free market principles during a talk by R.J. Moeller. Moeller is a pastor in a Christian Church in Chicago and is currently a graduate student studying theology and philosophy in the Chicago-land area. Interestingly enough, he is a published writer and aspiring cultural commentator focused on the intersection of faith, politics, economics, and popular culture.

That night, Moeller discussed economics from a Christian worldview. He said that economics is the combination of math, morality, and experience. And that we have a unique gift to create and produce. I knew that we should be stewards of creation, but he also talked about being a steward of our time, talent, and treasure. Competition is needed for improvement in the economy, but we need to do so in a Godly way. Moeller also suggested that we should try to change hearts and behaviors before trying to change policies. One of the books he recommended was "Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem" by Jay W. Richards.

At the end of the night, I asked him how to be a better Christian worker. Moeller suggested some smaller everyday things such as being ethical and working hard. Or not working on Sundays and being a trustworthy coworker. Another suggestion was to donate money to worthwhile charities so that others can serve the needy.

But I wanted to dig a little deeper. How can I more fully integrate my faith and profession? (Please don't confuse this with my vocation. My deeper purpose is to be married and a mother.)

So I read "Money, Greed, and God" and it totally improved my view of capitalism from a Christian perspective. Turns out, Moeller is an alumnus of the Acton Institute, which seeks to gather Christians from all traditions to discuss how to create a free and virtuous society. And Richards held a leadership position at the Acton Institute. So these guys share a common message. That book debunks many commonly held myths about capitalism, even some that I held.

Not to leave you hanging, but this post is already getting a little lengthly. So I'm going to save a book review for some future posts.

Do you have troubles connecting your personal and professional life?
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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Throwing Pasta at the Wall's heart to heart time. I've been blogging for about 2 months now and in those 2 months, I've thrown all sorts of pasta at the wall to see what sticks. I started this blog with a vague idea about what I'd write about. I'd been thinking over the blog idea for a while, but wasn't completely sure about the subject matter until I thought of the name. Call it "divine intervention," but once I thought of "Fiscally Chic," I signed up for a blog to save the name and went from there.

Over time, I've been trying out things to see what works. I had a list of ideas when this started, but no strong focus. (Totally out of character for this perfectionist.) And while everything I've written is true, I haven't been completely true with what I want this blog to be about. Think about college. You try on all sorts of different hats and majors to see what sticks for you. This little blog has been deciding her "major." She sort of tried the cool ones out, but deep down, those weren't for her.

I love cooking and baking, but I'll never be a food blogger. Running is obviously fun, but I couldn't think of enough ways to keep that interesting. Style blogger? Not for me. I get the J.Crew and West Elm catalogs like everyone else, but I'm not into high fashion or have the skills to style someone's home. I can barely keep ours clean.

Deep down, I'm just a dorky accountant. Finance, economics, and business excite me. I don't particularly enjoy doing my taxes, but a few years back, a friend asked me to help her make a budget. I was all over it! Those sorts of things just seem like common sense to me. I guess I have my upbringing and education to thank for that.

I started "Fiscally Chic" to talk about "saving money with style." I guess I've been focusing on the "style" aspect a little too much for my tastes. Maybe I thought that would be more interesting and I'd get a few more readers. But that wouldn't be fair to you or fair to me. It's not my expertise. There are all sorts of other blogs that are much, much better at discussing style. If you need some recommendations, just ask. As I said, I get more excited with the "saving" aspect of my tagline.

I'll still write about running, cooking, decorating, and things that are going on, but I'll phrase it in such a way that supports my "fiscally chic" lifestyle. You'll get the added benefit of me talking about how I'm actually practicing what I preach. Like how we're saving money to eventually buy a house and start a family. All of those activities are an aspect of my life and what make me unique. How many people out there brew their own beer, run marathons, bake cupcakes, and talk about money? Maybe a few, but probably not a lot. And I'm Catholic, but we can talk more about that later. Even I would get bored hearing myself talk about automatic transfers to a savings account. Everything needs balance (insert corny balance sheet joke).

Will I be the next Suze Orman? Definitely not overnight. But at least I know I'm being true to myself and hopefully helping people along the way. Plus, I don't have Suze's haircut or jackets.

Phew, this is quite the rambling post. But it was much easier to write this than putting together a recipe post. So maybe this proves my point to myself. And since every post needs a picture to be relatively entertaining, here's one from Galena.

Thanks for reading. I think "Fiscally Chic" has the potential to be something awesome. It just takes a little time.
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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Grand Opening: One Sydney Road!

Hi friends! How's Wednesday treating you? Have you recovered from your Halloween candy hangovers? Well, I have quite the treat for you today! If you follow The Dream Reporter series on Makeunder My Life, you'll know that Piper opened her store One Sydney Road on Monday. You haven't heard of One Sydney Road yet? Let me introduce you:

One Sydney Road

Per Piper, One Sydney Road is "fresh, inspired finds for you + your home." This online boutique is the culmination of 23 weeks of being a Dream Reporter, as well as years of dreaming and scheming. The variety and quality of products is that of a seasoned veteran and the website is pretty darn cool too.

And guess what? She's from Cleveland! So maybe I'm a little biased :) Also, she has a witty sense of humor. Just check out the product descriptions.

Below are some of the products that put a smile on my face:

Take a look around at One Sydney Road. Do you have any favorites?

And congratulations again, Piper! You're an inspiration to all of us. Thanks for showing that we can achieve our dreams. (It just takes a little blood, sweat, and toil.)

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Impulse Buys are Vegetables

Do you sometimes walk into a store with a list in hand or a specific item in mind only to walk out with five more things you had no idea you needed? Target automatically comes to mind. Though it seems to happen to me more often than not at the farmer's market or the good old grocery store.

Magazines and candy at the check out line don't even faze me. Sometimes I fall for an extra box of two or cereal. But deep down, I'm a sucker for produce. The perfectly stacked bunches of carrots and heirloom tomatoes in every color of the rainbow get me every time. Good thing we don't shop at Whole Foods on a regular basis. I'm also a victim of Trader Joe's.

So what happens when I fall for the fruit or vegetable that just had to come home with me? All sorts of things. Sometimes they sit in the fridge and go bad. Like the zucchini I got a few weeks ago (I know...horrible and not at all fiscally chic!) Usually I try out a new recipe based on something I read on a blog or in a magazine. That can go one of two ways. Mediocre like last year's acorn squash. Or absolute knock-it-out-of-the-park-home-run like my new friend spaghetti squash.

When the spaghetti squash jumped into my cart, I had no idea what I was doing. I'd never seen the insides of a cooked spaghetti squash, let alone eaten one. So like a good little blogger I searched through my Google Reader for a recipe. I ultimately settled on the basic spaghetti squash preparation pulled from another recipe from The Front Burner Blog. John was suspicious and I was skeptical. We were out of frozen pizzas so it had to be good.

This recipe turned out to be amazing! The squash was just like pasta, just a little crunchier. So feel free to substitute spaghetti squash in your next pasta dish. One cup has only 42 calories with two grams of fiber (the preparation below will have more calories). It's also a good source of vitamin B6 and C, as well as the minerals manganese, potassium, and iron.

Spaghetti Squash with Shrimp in a White Wine Cream Sauce
Adapted from by The Front Burner Blog (check it out for step by step pictures)

Prepping your Spaghetti Squash
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees
2. Slice the squash in half lengthwise, scooping out the seeds and gunk before cooking.
3. Coat the insides with olive oil. (I like to use a Misto to spray olive oil.)
4. Mince 4 cloves of garlic and a quarter of an onion. Fill the squash's cavity with the garlic and onion.
5. Season the insides with salt and pepper.
6. Bake the squash uncovered in a Pyrex baking dish for about 1 hour.
7. Once the sides start to wrinkle, and the squash is starting to pull away from the shell, it’s ready to go.

While the squash was baking, prep the sauce and shrimp:

Shrimp and White Wine Cream Sauce
1. Heat a glug or so of olive oil in a pan over medium/low heat.
2. Cook 4 cloves of minced garlic and a quarter onion, chopped.
3. Glug in some white wine and half and half. Maybe a few tablespoons or so of each. (I used some Galena Cellars Traminette, a spicy semi-dry white wine, a cross with the Gewurtztraminer grape.)
4. Bring the sauce to a boil to let the flavors concentrate.
5. Cook 1/2 pound of shrimp in the sauce. They cook quickly, so once they turn pink and get firm, they're ready to go.
6. Season with salt and pepper.

Putting it all together:
1. Using a fork, test to see if the flesh pulls away easily into spaghetti like strands.
2. Scoop both halves into individual bowls or plates for serving, mixing in the olive oil/garlic/onion mixture.
3. Pour the sauce and shrimp over the spaghetti squash.
4. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
5. Grate fresh Parmesan cheese over the "pasta."
6. Grab a fork and dig in!

Do you ever buy random things at the grocery store? How do your cooking experiments turn out?
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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Are you dressing up as anything? I don't have a costume picked out yet. Last year I ran a Halloween 10K as a hot dog (nice buns!).

Maybe I'll wear that to Chipotle to get a $2 burrito. If you show up to Chipotle after 6pm on Halloween dressed up as processed food you can get a burrito for $2. Up to $1,000,000 of the proceeds from the promotion will be donated to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

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