Friday, October 28, 2011

The Ghost-ess with the Most-ess

Lululemon tank and shorts, Nike boxing shoes, Missoni bathrobe,
Title boxing gloves, Tory Burch belt, my pillow
Happy Halloween weekend! I might still go as the hot dog, but I've also considered this:


I would be a boxer or prize fighter with a pillow. Rocky won't know what hit him. I have a bright pink bathrobe, but that Missoni robe would be fierce. I would add boxing gloves and a Tory Burch championship belt.

Now that we have costumes picked out, it's time to move onto more important things. Like what sort of treats to serve at your Halloween party. You know I love cupcakes, so I might make a batch of these ghoulish guys.

Bake some of your favorite cupcakes. Then whip up some frosting. (This is my go-to recipe. If you don't want to use a vanilla bean, you can either leave it out or substitute another teaspoon of vanilla extract.) If that's too much hassle, I won't tell if you use frosting from a can.

Color small batches of frosting with food coloring to make the veins and spider webs. Pipe the frosting from a sandwich bag with the corner cut off. Use either M&M's or Skittles for the eyes and spiders. I used sprinkles as the spider webs.

The witches were really fun to make! (And yes, these pictures are from before I learned about food styling.) Color frosting light green for the face. I then piped purple frosting on for the hair. The eyes are chocolate chips and the nose is a piece of candy corn. Pop on an ice cream cone for the witch's hat and you're ready too boogie.

Recipe at Pearl of Wisdom
If you're feeling really daring, you should make these ghostly pavlovas. My friend Elisa has the recipe on her blog.

Have a spooky weekend! And check out the rest of the Friday's Fancies for more budget-less costume ideas.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Think of the Savings: Thanks, Social Media!

Thanks to the magic of social media, I've received some pretty cool things in the mail recently. Here's a big hug and "thank you" to the following folks!

First, I'd like to tip my hat to Meagan from Mo Pie, Please. I won her giveaway with a lovely, little shop. I picked the Anouk necklace in silver and it's really quite lovely. The necklace is really versatile and I've worn it to work and on the weekend. By the way, how cute is that packaging?

I first learned about The Olive Orchard several years ago at the Fabulous Food Show in Cleveland with my Mom. The Olive Orchard had a booth and I picked up a bottle of their hot red pepper olive. It adds a nice a kick to whatever you're cooking. The Olive Orchard was giving away a few bottles of their Greek EVOO on their Facebook page and I was one of the lucky winners. I can't wait to make a salad with it!

Finally, I recently started following CLIF Bar on Twitter. I'm a big fan of their Builder's Bars (particularly mint chocolate) and would eat one before a long training run. CLIF Bar was giving away samples of their Peppermint Stick bar and mine came in the mail last weekend. I love all the different flavors of CLIF Bars, and the Peppermint Stick is no exception.

Want in on the giveaway action???

Stephanie of The Rest is Still Unwritten recently hit 100 followers and is hosting her first giveaway! I'm sponsoring the giveaway and am offering two of my 18x18 Marimekko Berry Ombre pillow covers.

Swing by Stephanie's blog for a chance to win (through Wednesday November 2). There's also a bonus in the post if you've been eyeing anything in the Shop.
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Easy Halloween Costumes

Oh, buddy! Halloween is less than a week away! Do you have your costume picked out? I haven't quite decided yet. I'm not one for a slutty Halloween costume, or one that just involves a pair of wings or ears, so I'll have to summon my creative juices over the next few days.

If you're looking for some easy Halloween costumes, you've come to the right place! None of these will break your budget, unless you're looking to invest in a costume.

It seems every blogger has a striped shirt. (Guilty as charged, I just bought this navy and white one from the Gap.) Put those stripes to work as a pirate. Add a bandanna, glittery scarf, eye patch, or sword and you're golden.

Other easy costumes straight from your closet include a cowboy/cowgirl. Lasso a straw hat, plaid or gingham shirt, and some denim. Sheriff star and toy guns are optional.

I've also been a spy at the last minute. Sneak around with black sunglasses, trench coat, and a briefcase.

We have clever friends that were smores one year. She wore all white as the marshmallow. He wore all brown as the chocolate. Both had a square of cardboard strapped to their back as a graham cracker.

One of my favorite costumes from growing up is the Indian corn and my sister's bunch of grapes. This was also perfect for wearing over a winter jacket when the weather was chilly for trick or treating. Simply pin balloons to an oversized shirt. My Mom then painted our faces to look like the stem of the grapes or the dried leaves of the corn.

If you're a little pressed for time to DIY a costume, you can always pick one up at Target or the like. I was a Joann Fabrics over the weekend and their Halloween costumes were already marked down.

And yes, I will milk my running hot dog costume for all it's worth :) It was marked full priced when I looked at it, but I asked for a discount because it was slightly damaged. Its main purpose was for the Halloween 10K, so I didn't care if the velcro needed to be restitched. So if you're handy with a needle and thread, don't be afraid to ask for a discount.

On the other extreme, John decided to invest in this chicken costume, fondly referred to as the "Chilliken." $80 (including tax and shipping) isn't cheap, but he's used this costume for years. And multiple times a year while at SLU.

Fun fact: The Chilliken even made a brief appearance at our wedding. You guessed it. We're dancing "The Chicken Dance."

Jessica of "What I Wore" always has fantastic Halloween ideas. Here are this year's costumes. Some are easy and pulled from your closet, while others take a little more skill to DIY.

What's the most clever costume you've seen?
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Thinking Pink

Fiscally Chic 100% Alpaca Cream Bulky Weight Knit Scarf, Gap gray top, Sydney and Sons Billy tote,
J. Crew denim jacket, Current/Elliott ankle corduroy skinny pants, Sam Edelman Wilma Wedge Booties

We made it to another Friday! I don't know about you, but this last bit of the week dragged a little bit. I know why, but I won't be able to tell you until next week.

Until then, let's indulge in a little pink. This week's Friday's Fancies is all about thinking pink and breast cancer awareness. My aunt is a breast cancer survivor, so this one goes out to her.

I have a pair of pink corduroy pants, so I created an outfit I could wear for dinner at a friend's apartment. It's been a bit chilly in Chicago (our Indian summer is definitely over) so I added a cozy alpaca scarf from the Fiscally Chic shop. My Mom knit these scarves (plus hats) using yarn made from the fleece of their alpacas. Alpaca fleece is extremely soft and warm, similar to cashmere. There is a wide variety of natural colors in the shop and I'll be listing additional items in the coming days.

Hope you all have a fantastic weekend!

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spiced Apple and Cranberry Cobbler

[Welcome to any new readers from The Rest is Still Unwritten! Or if you're a Fiscally Chic regular looking for a double dose, I wrote a Paris-themed guest post for Stephanie while they're enjoying Paris and France.]

As you may remember from a few weeks ago, (mostly) John and I brewed our first batch of pumpkin ale. We decided to use some specialty grains (crushed malted barley) at the beginning of the brewing process to give the beer a more complex flavor. However, that meant we were left with about 6 cups of spent grain. Not wanting to put a good thing to waste, we decided to save it.

This isn't a random hippie idea because we've been to brewpubs where spent grain is used in cooking or baking, like the Brewer's Barley Pretzels at Great Lakes Brewing Company. Great Lakes will also use their spent grain as fertilizer, animal feed, or compost. Since it's a little late in the growing season, and we don't have any livestock, baking was the way to go.

The stars must have aligned because the September/October 2011 issue of Draft magazine had a story featuring several recipes using spent grain. Additionally, Etsy had a blurb about the Brooklyn Brew Shop. Lucky for me, their website includes a nice collection of spent grain recipes.

Now, I generally don't bake just for the sake of baking. I enjoy baking when I know it will be enjoyed by others. That means I bake when people are coming over, we're going somewhere, or there's a special event like a birthday. We were having friends over for dinner on Friday night, so it was the perfect opportunity to try out a new recipe. I guess that's another thing you need to know; if you're coming for dinner, I'll probably be trying out at least one new recipe on you :)

The great thing about cooking or baking is you can improvise a little and customize the recipe to your tastes. We had all sorts of apples and a random bag of cranberries on hand, which were excellent building blocks for this cobbler. I recommend trying out other combinations of fruit based on what's in season. Maybe peaches or blueberries in the summer. And don't worry if you don't have any spent grain lying around, oatmeal should work wonderfully.

Spiced Apple and Cranberry Cobbler with Spent Grain
Adapted from a recipe by Carolyn Tesini, published in the Sept/Oct 2011 issue of Draft magazine

Serves: 8 to 10


Streusel Topping
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
½ cup toasted sliced almonds
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
pinch of salt

4 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I used 2 Fuji and 2 Honeycrisp)
1 cup fresh cranberries (probably could have increased to 2 cups)
½ cup apple cider
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup lightly packed brown sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1½ cups low-fat milk
1 cup spent grain (this should be fairly dry)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Streusel topping:
Melt the butter in the microwave. About 30 seconds.

Combine the flour, sugar, almonds, ginger and salt in a small bowl. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the melted butter on top and stir. Set aside.

Combine the apples, cranberries, apple cider, bourbon, 1 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large saucepan.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook 10 minutes.

Stir in the vanilla and salt.

Cobbler (and putting it all together)
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.

Whisk in the milk until combined, then stir in the spent grain.

Pour remaining melted butter in a 9x13 inch baking dish or other 3-quart baking dish.

Pour the spent grain cobbler mixture on top of the melted butter in the baking dish.

Spoon the fruit mixture on top and sprinkle with streusel.

Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes.

Let cool at least 20 minutes before serving.
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Sewing Curtains with a Hidden Tab Top

Anthropologie earrings and dress, Kate Spade Westward Ingenue clutch, Bandolino booties

Hurray for Friday! I've had a crazy exciting week and can't wait for the weekend. This week's Friday's Fancies centers on fall colors. I decided to cheat and make my outfit a combination of fall and my curtain fabric. And I decided to subtly pick up the diamonds in the fabric.

Premier Prints Annie, Corn Yellow/Kelp Linen

Now on to the show! After looking at different styles of curtains, I decided to go with hidden tabs on the top. That style (vs. a pole-pocket top) looks cleaner to me. Plus, it's not as fussy as pleats.

Sewing curtains wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. The hardest part was taking the measurements and calculating everything.  I even drew a mock-up to make sure I wasn't missing anything. I love this stuff.

First, hang the curtain rod to figure out how long the curtains need to be. Our curtains would need to be 94 inches from the curtain rod to the floor.

To figure out the tab top, I used our Ikea Vivan curtains and this tutorial as a guide. For the actual tabs, the tutorial used heavy grosgrain ribbon. Sturdy and less sewing....perfect! I pulled out some extra ribbon (yes, it's from wedding gifts from three years ago). John kept trying to throw it out, but I knew it would come in handy at some point!

The tabs on the Ikea curtains are 2.5 inches wide, the same width as the ribbon. The curtain panels are about the same width as my fabric. Ikea has 8 tabs at about 5 inches apart. My curtains would have 8 tabs at about 5 inches apart. The tabs were 3 inches long. So I cut 16 4-inch pieces of ribbon (3 inches, plus a 1/2 inch on each end to be ironed under). Easy breezy.

Also, the Ikea curtains have 1 inch of fabric above the tabs and where the curtains will hang. That meant I needed 4.5 inches more for the top (1/2 inch ironed under and 4 inches for a wide hem at the top). 

I cut 2 105-inch panels of fabric. That's 4.5 inches for the top, 94 inches for the actual panel, and 6.5 inches for the bottom. I gave myself plenty of wiggle room since I wanted to make sure the top of the yellow diamond was at the top of my curtain panel. Plus, I wasn't sure how wide I wanted the hem to be at the bottom.

Since these were going to be curtain panels, I just used the width of the fabric (56" wide - that is 54 usable inches - not including the selvage). I needed 1 inch on each side of the panel (1/2 inch folded and ironed and one more 1/2 inch folded and ironed for the hem). I didn't cut the sides because the selvage would be hidden in the hem.

Now that I had my fabric cut, it was time get my iron and sewing machine on. I folded and ironed under a 1/2 inch on each side of the ribbon tab.

Then I folded and ironed 1/2 inch on each side of the length of the fabric. Then I folded over and ironed another 1/2 inch on each side of the length of the fabric. Now the raw edge of the fabric was neatly tucked inside my 1/2 inch hem.

The crisp seams meant I didn't have to pin the hem and could go straight to the sewing machine. Sew the 1/2 inch hem on each side of the length of the curtain panel.

Now that the sides were complete, it was time to tackle the top of the curtain. I folded under and ironed a 1/2 inch. Then I folded over and ironed 4 inches so the back would have a clean finish. This also created a pocket if I ever wanted to go the pole-pocket route.

Time for the tabs! I tucked the bottom fold of the ribbon underneath the folded fabric. Then I pinned down each side of the ribbon tab. This created little "belt loops" for the curtain rod to slide through. After the tabs were pinned about 5 inches apart, I took everything over to the sewing machine.

This is a better view where you can see the bottom fold of the tab tucked under the fabric. I sewed the bottom part of the tab and hem first. Then I sewed the top part of the tab, making sure I had my 1 inch hem at the top.

Here's the back of the curtain with the completed tabs!

And here is the final product! Yes, I still need to finish the bottom hem.

Here's another view of the curtains with our extra long curtain rod. It's actually two Ikea Beskada 38 - 152" curtain rods. With the wider rod in the middle and two skinny rods slid into each end.

Final cost
Fabric               $96
2 curtain rods    $22
Thread                $1
Ribbon         FREE!
Total              $119   

Not too shabby for custom curtain panels and the rods. A single panel from West Elm is about $44, so two panels would be about $96, including tax.

I love the curtains (John too!) and they definitely bring a little flair to the mostly brown and beige space. We have light beige walls, beige carpet, the brown leather couch, and brown furniture. Now it's time to add a little more color to the room and figure out the seating/coversation zones. Oh, and tackle the clutter and (my) dumping zones. We may also add another layer of curtains or something to cut the glare on the TV when it's bright outside.

Hope you have a fantastic fall weekend!

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Let's Go Apple Picking!

As I said a few weeks ago, one of my favorite fall activities is apple picking. There's just something about walking through an apple orchard and picking your own apples. Some to sample on the spot and some to bring home. And what do I do with bag after bag of apples? Apple pie, apple sauce, apple cake, apple crisp, and so many other things.

Unfortunately, we haven't been apple picking since moving to Chicago. There are apple orchards nearby, but we've been busy for too many weekends. This weekend would have been the perfect one to go with the summery weather. But it didn't happen with the curtains (sneak peek!) and marathon.

Never fear! One of the benefits of a young blog is plenty of pictures and material from before starting the blog :) And there's still a chance to go apple picking since apples are generally available for picking between August and October or November. That obviously varies based on the location, weather, and growing conditions.

Since I write about topics with a financial spin, I got to wondering how fiscally chic apple picking is. So off to the farmer's market, grocery store, and Target to do a little "market" research. At the grocery store and Target, apples to cost between $0.99 and $2.49 per pound. While apples at the farmers market ran about $1 or $2 per pound.

An apple orchard may charge based on the weight of the apples you pick. Or they may charge an admission fee which includes a set amount of apples with an option to purchase additional bags. Here's a sampling from a few pick your own farms around the Midwest:
  • Eckert's (multiple locations near St. Louis) - $1.89/pound
  • Kuiper's Family Farm (west of Chicago, IL) - $8.50/person (includes hay ride and 1/4 peck), $15/additional peck. One peck weighs about 10.5 pounds, so about $3.24/pound including the hay ride. The additional peck would be $1.43/pound.
  • Patterson Fruit Farm (east of Cleveland, OH) - $0.95/pound. There's also a family fun fest for $4 or $6 depending on the day
By just comparing prices, picking your own apples costs about the same as buying apples from the grocery store or farmer's market. Possibly more or less depending on the variety.
But there's something else intrinsically valuable about pick your own apple orchards....the experience! There's more than just the orchard. There's the hay ride, a trip to the restaurant, live music, a corn maze, or pony rides for kids. Remember a while back when I talked about buying happiness? Picking your own apples with friends and family is a recipe for happy memories which leads to stronger relationships and longer-lasting happiness.

Apple cake recipe found at Smitten Kitchen
Have you been apple picking this year? What's your favorite thing to make with freshly picked apples? Leave a link with your favorite recipe in the comments.

If you're not sure what kind of apples to pick, here's a helpful chart from Bauman Orchards showing apples, their flavors, and best uses.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

This is the weekend...

...I finally sew the curtains! Seriously. It's about time because I've had the fabric since August. I'm going to do it. I don't have many excuses left. We probably won't paint the room. We picked up the curtain rods at Ikea. The sewing machine is set up and I have plenty of thread. The only thing keeping me from sewing those darn curtains is my lack of willpower. And maybe the Chicago Marathon. I'm not running this year, but will be cheering and volunteering with Team Catholic Charities.

Premier Prints Annie, Corn Yellow/Kelp Linen

This week's Friday's Fancies theme is "blazers," so I'm going to take a little inspiration from my curtain fabric. Yellow, gray, and linen.

J. Crew houndstooth blazer and dress, Zara leather boots,
Marc by Marc Jacobs Petal to the Metal pouch,
Indian Summer earrings from One Sydney Road

What are you up to this weekend? Any crafty projects? If you don't hear from me next week, that means the curtains aren't ready and I'm not about to admit defeat.

Will you be running the marathon? If not, will you be cheering or volunteering? If you're running...good luck!

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs


Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.

Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

-Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford commencement speech
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Monday, October 3, 2011

Recap of the Financial Blogger Conference

Oh, boy! The Financial Blogger Conference! If you ever have the opportunity to attend a conference or local meet-up, I totally recommend it! It's been over a day and I'm still riding the high. It's like coming home after a weekend retreat. I'm inspired and a bit overwhelmed by the ideas in my head. I have pages filled in a notebook and could sit here all day writing about it. Instead, here's a highlight of the things I learned from the conference.

Put the readers first
First and foremost, readers are first. That's you! J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly opened up the conference with this very point. We don't blog for ourselves. We blog to help readers. Our blogs should offer actual advice and be a resource.

Since blogs are for the readers, we should be reaching out to the readers and asking them what they want. Really get to know your audience. Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to be Rich said we need to "stop preaching and start listening." I know I'm guilty of going on and on about myself...."I, I, I, me, me, me, blah, blah, blah, look how amazing I am." That gets pretty old after a while. Many presenters suggested sending out a reader survey, so I'm going to put one together over the next few weeks. Start thinking of things you like about Fiscally Chic and things that need a little work. Are there posts or areas that are lacking? Do you have some burning question that needs to be answered? Chances are, someone else has the same question.

Conference organizer, Philip Taylor of PT Money

Personal finance bloggers are extremely smart and inspiring. The conference was like a live Twitter feed or the "best of the best" of my Google Reader. Many of bloggers are documenting their journey out of debt. Others are sharing the ways they've created something out of nothing and have become quite successful. Not only are they bloggers, but they are mothers, fathers, and friends doing something they love. I've always heard you should surround yourself by people you aspire to be and this is a great group to be a part of.

At the same time, many of the speakers challenged us to do more. Be EPIC! In the words of Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income, "We know what we need to do, so why aren't we doing it?" Ramit also pointed out that "if you're doing the right thing, the money will come."

The importance of social media
Social media is a way to connect with readers on another level. In keeping with "Put the readers first," it's another way to engage your readers. Personal finance can be extremely dry, so sharing your story (and others') can add a little color. Plus, you don't know which method of communication works for someone. Twitter is perfect for the short updates. (Speaking of, check out the #FINCON11 hashtag for more highlights of the conference.) Tumblr and Flickr are great for sharing pictures. Maybe you prefer Facebook. That means a Fiscally Chic FB page is in the future.

Me, Amber, and Krystal
Going to the conference was also super fun! I loved meeting some of the bloggers I follow and meeting new people! I spent a bit of time getting to know Amber of Blonde and Balanced and Krystal of Give Me Back My Five Bucks. There have been talks of collaborations, so I'll keep you posted.

You can't have a conference without a little swag! Unfortunately, I didn't win either iPad drawing. But I did win some tasty Tim Tam's from Kylie Ofiu. They're chocolate covered cookie sandwiches from Australia. I picked the dark chocolate. She also gave me a copy of her book 365 Ways to Make Money to review. One of my other favorite items is the right brain/left brain note pad. And the snap bracelet :)

As I said, I have page full of ideas for future posts. These will be spread out over the next month so you're not overwhelmed with blogging advice. And don't forget to start thinking of feedback!

Have you ever been to a blogger conference?

If you're in Chicago, Jess is having a "Business in the City" meet-up on Tuesday from 6-7pm at Next Door. Check out MML for more details.
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