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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