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

So....it'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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