Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gearing up for a Contest

It's been all over the Facebook page, but for readers who are not on Facebook, I just wanted to let you know that to celebrate Nick's birthday there will be a special entry next Friday and a contest featuring Jennifer Morais Photography. Make sure you read then, you will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Fall Home Decor - FINALLY!!

I got out of class early today, so since we didn't have any bread (and the staple lunch in our house right now is PB&J) I made a quick run to the supermarket to pick up a loaf. While there I got the impulse to go into Marshall's and see if they had candles the size I wanted (remember my failed trip to The Christmas Tree Shop that doesn't exist in California?) and success! I found them, and everything else I wanted for this entry.

I had set a very strict budget for myself of $35 and the goal was to get red and orange candles, fall place mats, a wreath for the door, and pumpkins. I already had everything else I needed (white candles, M&Ms (that was covered by our food budget for the week), a glass jar, a tablecloth, and other various seasonal decorations.

This is what our dining room table looked like before (excuse the mess, I took this within the first couple of days of our move):

I had a lime green tablecloth out with flower placemats and spring/summery candles.

Once I changed around a few things:

-2 Candles $3 each
-4 placemats for $7 (And the best thing about these is that on the other side they're plain brown so I can use them with other tablecloths I have)
-2 bags of M&Ms for the jar (I don't know how much they cost, Nick did the food shopping this week)
-1 mini pumpkin for under $1

Actually, my table really looks like this at the moment:

But I have a craft project for that slightly larger pumpkin (cost me $2). I need to invest in a glue gun, then I can post an entry about that!

In addition to switching out those linens, I also changed the dish towels in the kitchen to more fall appropriate ones (golden yellow and another with a pumpkin vine) and put out our little Halloween nick-knacks. This next picture is a really bad one, but that's what you get when you have two cats who are running all over the place and trying to get in on the action:

Before we had out white cloths with yellow lemons and green leaves on them. I switched them to these paisley-esque ones and put a wicker pumpkin and two maple leave candle holders out. I'd also put some candles in there, but with the cats...that's a bad idea. It's like I have two toddlers already.

For the front of the apartment, all I did was buy a wreath for $19. It should be able to last me through Thanksgiving, and maybe even Christmas since it has some red in it. I also put out a ceramic pumpkin we got as a gift a year or two ago, and taped some costumed characters to the windows. When I was little and we lived in our apartment, my mom used to buy them (they're generally a dollar or two depending on the size and they only last 2-3 years if you can flip them over (the sun washes out the color eventually)) and hang them up in the windows since we couldn't do much else to show our holiday spirit. I don't think Nick is that big of a fan of them, but it makes me feel like a kid again, so he has to put up with them every year.

When we were kids we also used to make little ghosts out of tissue (take a couple bunch them up, then put another over it, tie with a ribbon, and draw a face on it) and hang them around the apartment. That's actually a really good idea if you're having a can put a tissue over a tootsie pop instead.

Anywhoo, so all of that put me at $35 exactly, anything that I bought can be kept out until Thanksgiving, and next year I shouldn't have to spend anything because I can reuse it all (minus the pumpkins of course).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rosemary Chicken with Apple Salad and Onions

If you have not already done so, please look to the left of the entry and see the poll I've started. I have tons of entry ideas, but I'm just curious as to what people actually want me to write about. If you have a second, please take the time to answer the poll this way I know where to tailor my entries. Thanks!


I hate chicken, and since we don't eat meat I rarely eat it. But about 2 months ago my parents and I checked out a new local farmer's market back home and my mom suggested I make dinner. They all eat meat, and the meat there was local, so I picked out a few things and made an awesome meal that even I, who has NEVER liked chicken EVER loved.

I plan on making this again for Thanksgiving (because I know I would never like turkey, and it was a fluke that I even like this chicken). But since I made up the recipe on the spot, I'm doing my best to attempt to explain it now as a way to share the recipe and recreate it again the next time...that sounds bad, but I've got high hopes it'll turn out fantastic.

For Chicken:
1 whole chicken de-gutted
1 bag of pearl onions
Several full cloves of garlic
olive oil

For Apple salad:

1 1/2 gala apples (peeled and chopped up)
1/2 stick of butter
1 1/2 tablespoons of cinnamon
3 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 c walnuts (I'm trying to remember if these were actually in there or not, maybe??)
1/4 c golden raisins
1/4 c regular raisins
3/4 cup sweet white wine or apple juice

Preheat oven 350 degrees.

1. add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When it starts to get hot add the apples. Give them a stir and after one minute add 4 tablespoons of butter. When the butter begins to brown add the sugar and cinnamon. When the sugar begins to caramelize (that's when it bubbles up like it's boiling), add the wine. After you cook it for 2 minutes add the raisins and walnuts.

2. Cook the apple mixture for 5-8 minutes. Let some of the liquid evaporate, but not all of it. When it's done, spoon out the apple with a slotted spoon into ta big bowl and continue to let the contents of the frying pan cook. Keep your slotted spoon handy and keep stirring it so the liquid doesn't burn. Basically you're trying to make a little syrup, so you want it to be thick. When it's done pour that into the bowl with the rest of your salad.

3. Next, take the skins off all the onions and set them aside.

4. Time for the chicken! cover the bottom of your roasting pan/bakers dish whatever with a little bit of olive oil. Put the chicken on top. Then put some olive oil on top and inside. Next put some salt and rosemary on top and on the bottom of the chicken. Make sure you rub it in. Then put some rosemary in the middle of the chicken (I don't put salt on the inside) (that you don't have to rub in if you don't want to, haha). Put a few cloves of garlic on the inside of the chicken and around the dish as well as a couple underneath. I'd say 6-10 total depending on the size of the cloves.

5. Now stuff the chicken with some of the apple salad and onions (don't over stuff it though, maybe 3/4 full), then put the rest in the dish around the sides of the chicken. If you have any leftover juices in your bowl from the apple salad dump that on top of the chicken. I also like to lift up the chicken to let some of the juices flow underneath then set it back down without letting anything get stuck underneath.

6. Cook until the chicken is cooked. Thanks to the apples and the juice/wine from the salad, this will be juicy enough that you shouldn't have to baste or anything.

7. Enjoy!

I think this recipe is big enough for a chicken that'll feed 4-6 people depending on appetite and the kinds of sides you include (we had this with butternut squash ravioli which was a really good match, but I could also see having mashed potatoes as well). So you can always add more or less depending on what you need.

Monday, September 27, 2010

This Week's Sales!

Thank God, only one more post now until that Dirt Candy post is off the main page! I can't stand it anymore, and this strict food budget Nick and I are on for the next week (due to massive amounts of visitors for the two weeks after that and the extra spending we'll no doubt do when they're here) really stinks. We have a week of pasta with red sauce and peanut butter sandwiches ahead of us. I guess, though, we'll lose a few pounds before the Holiday season. That's got to be a good thing, right?

Now on to the sales!

Banana Republic - Free shipping on orders of $100 - BRFREE100. At the factory store they're having a 70% off sale CLICK HERE for a coupon for an additional 20% off at the store...I think it's time for me to break out the BP card and finish off my Christmas shopping.
Sak's 5th Avenue - Free shipping on orders of $150 - SEPSHIP10
Bath and Body Works - 3 Wick Candles, 2 for $20, Wall Flowers are 4 for $20 or 6 for $24.
New York Philharmonic - Alan Gilbert Conducts Mahler's Sixth Symphony, September 29 - October 1. Seats are $39 & $59 if you enter the code: 1001-39. Click on "Promo" button to buy.
CO Bigelow - Buy 2 items, get 1 free! - If you click on the link I gave you here, you can get a 1 month free trial. I think if you go straight to the website without clicking that link you get 2 weeks free.
Bloomingdale's - Got the urge for your man to be a CK underwear model? You can get 25% off male Calvin Klein underwear through October 11th.
Ann Taylor Loft - I think this is only in-store: Spend $50 and get a $25 gift card, so if you liked either of those jackets I posted on the Fall Fashion entry and couldn't justify it, you can always use those gift cards for Christmas presents...I'm such an enabler.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Ins and Outs of Finding your Dream (rental) Home

I feel as if after this past year I am now an expert on how to rent an apartment. For three months I traversed the internet world trying to find the perfect 2-bedroom apartment from 3,000 miles away and really learned a lot of tricks about the process. So here's my favorite websites and tips, and hopefully you'll find them helpful!

Where to start:

I think the old adage "location, location, location" is key here. Where is a place that's a good distance from both you and your partner's work? Is the neighborhood safe? If you have kids, what are the schools like? What is the apartment close to (highways, shopping, the downtown, etc.)? Does any of that even matter to you? Do you have a specific town or specific kind of town you like? And another thing frequently not thought about, do you care where your apartment is located on the complex? All of these things will factor in to how much you spend on rent. Something closer to the street or in the basement is less money even if it's the same floor plan.

What amenities are important to you? Most if not all websites will let you filter out options by these. Decide which are must haves and which would be nice but are not deal breakers. For us, we had to have a two bedroom (we need an office, plus we would like to not have to move again and a baby might be born towards the end of our stay here), at least 1000sq/ft, a clean kitchen with updated appliances, clean bathroom, and the complex had to be pet friendly. Things that were nice was AC (normally this would be a requirement but we live in a temperate area so we can get away without), a patio or balcony, storage space, and a gym. We lucked out and got all of those things with extras to boot.

Websites to use: - A website that is generally all inclusive of any managed care property in your area. What sets off from is that they have a few personal adds put up by private owners. - Most of the things on are listed on as well. Usually the two websites do not have every complex between the two of them, so it's good to check both. However, if you do find one that's on here and on, go through If you sign a lease and submit proof, you get a $100 gift card back.

Craig's List - The great thing about Craig's List is that you can find both privately owned apartments and houses and Managed Care properties on here. The crappy thing is that there are scams so you need to be careful. Don't email financial information and don't give information over the phone. We used Craig's List a little bit but only when we were in California. I didn't feel comfortable renting site unseen because I didn't want to gamble with so much going on.

Apartment - I found this to be the best website that listed apartment ratings of the different properties and buildings out there. This became like my Bible. Every time I heard of a new facility I would run here and do searches to see what people said. A word to the wise, though. If there are only one or two reviews and the property has a 100% approval rating, be careful. Sometimes managers will put reviews up saying how wonderful the place is just to have a good rating. Also remember that most of the time people come on these websites to complain and it's more rare for people to post glowing reviews of a place. Make you you read several reviews to get a general picture and when looking, don't just narrow your search to the properties listed at 90% or above. We opted for around 60% and I think our place is around 70%. So far we love it.

Some other good places to look for listings:

- The most traditional of places to look, your local newspaper!
- College websites - Almost all colleges have a page in the student services section that is just for off campus housing. Check out what they recommend and what the students say about them. If you are a student you may be privy to special listings just for you.
- Ask your friends and family.
- Driving around neighborhoods you like. See if there are any For Rent signs or complexes (you can take write the names down and look them up on later).

Some things to remember:

- Be prepared! Come with questions (things like: Do I pay a pet deposit or pet rent? How often do you have an exterminator come? What utilities are included? How much is my security deposit? etc.)
- Look around the apartment. Open closet doors, test the water pressure in the shower, look at the windows. Often we forget to do things like that and when we move in we realize the windows are thin, the shower pressure is really low (and that means your toilet will not have great power either and washing dishes will take that much longer), or something important is broken. Nothing's worse than having the knowledge that you have to deal with a major unknown and unwanted problem for a year or longer until you can move out.
- If something is broken and you want it fixed, ask if they can fix it before you move in and see if you can have it included in your rental agreement.
- Keep at least 3 of your last pay stubs so that you are prepared when the rental manager asks for them.
- Find out what the rules are (are there quiet hours, can you paint the walls, can you get a pet eventually if you don't have one now?). Even though this isn't college anymore, you'd be surprised at the amount of rules some complexes have. It makes you feel like you'll be running from the RA every time you light up a cigarette or want to hang a picture on your wall. Except here you get charged a lot more for property damage and that's your money, not your parents'.
- Make sure you can afford the apartment. We went from two salaries to one, so we needed to figure out how much we could afford once our bills were taken care of. There's no set number, because each couple's savings needs are different. Are you saving to buy a house? Are you saving just for fun stuff like vacations? Are you saving for a college education? Are you saving for retirement? Are you doing a little bit of each? The key to not living paycheck to paycheck is making sure your rent is low enough that you have extra money to save. It's just a function how much you want to be able to save each money, or how much is realistic.
- Pay attention to key words in the description of the apartment. Think like a real estate agent. They use euphemisms to hide flaws. Cozy = small, charming = old, and so on. Was the apartment remodeled (totally redone) or updated (just a few touch ups here and there)? It's important to see pictures, read factual parts of the description (like sq/ft, etc.) and visit in person (or have someone close by) if you can.
- Read your lease. You don't want to be surprised later on.
- Don't rush into signing a lease if you don't have to. If you like a place, but it's just not perfect, wait until you find the one. It's like finding your spouse or buying a wedding dress. If you wait long enough, you will find the perfect one for you.

Considering we rented from so far away and only took one trip out here to check out places, I'm happy to say that Nick and I were able to find our dream apartment. It's not exactly everything we would want if we were to buy (the kitchen has just a smidgen too little cabinet and counter space, and there's no central AC, just a wall unit downstairs) but it has everything we wanted when we were looking and then some. My goal was to find a place we loved so much we wouldn't want to leave for 5 years (because let's face it, when you move 3,000 miles do you really want to have to move again when you know you might be moving home eventually?), and our goal was accomplished. Good luck finding your place!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Quintessential Fall Accessories & Trends this year

Ok, I have two confessions to make.

1. Every time I look at the blog, and most specifically the entry about Dirt Candy my mouth starts watering at the sight of those Jalepeno Hush Puppies. I am so hungry right now just thinking about it (and I JUST ate) it's sick. I need to write 5 more entries ASAP to get that off the main page or I may go insane.
2. I know I said I would post pictures this week about my fall decorating of our apartment this past weekend, but I never finished decorating. We have no tape or glue gun, so I couldn't do some things, and there are no Christmas Tree Stores in California so I couldn't buy the supplies I wanted. Therefore, this weekend I am going on a hunt trying to find the things I need and will hopefully post about this next week.

Since I can't post about my Fall house decorations, I figured I could post about my favorite Fall body decorations. Scarves and Boots! Although in reality, most who know me in real life know that I will find any excuse to wear my scarves and boots any time of year. The moment it's below 70 the scarf gets broken out, and boots can be worn any time of year if you wear the right clothes with them. I type this as my husband shakes his head at me. He thinks my love of scarves makes me a freak and my dear aunt sarcastically says to me on a regular basis, "I have the shoes picked out that I want to be buried in, just like you have your scarf." And she says she can always pick me out of a crowd by looking at people's shoes. When she sees the boots tucked in jeans she knows it's me. So shoot me, I like scarves and boots! Is it any wonder that Fall is my favorite season?

I've done some reading of Fashion Blogs and have tried to pick out some fall trends. From being a steady reader of Harper's Bazaar for several years I've started to realize that each year certain styles don't go out of fashion, it's how they are presented that changes. And usually they don't change that much. It's probably best to pick out a few pieces that are seasonally perfect, but classic enough that you don't need to replace them. Depending on your budget maybe buy one new statement piece a year and save it, but otherwise you can get away with not having to update your wardrobe that much. In reality, you can get away with a lot by just changing your makeup and hair around, as long as you have those basics and your statement piece.

What are this seasons trends? You've got a little bit of every style. Bohemian, Uptown Chic, English Country Side, 70s glamor. Jewel tones, tweed cropped jackets that look very Chanel (or just tweed and blazers in general), camel and olive colored accents. Other big colors this year were red and purple. Not much has changed since last year.

Here are a few of the more wearable examples from Harper Bazaar's website:

High fashion aside, what are some of the things that I think are important to own? Well of course scarves. You've got a lot of options right now as over the last few years every kind of scarf ever has become popular.

You can go for the English countryside look and get something plaid or another mensware pattern like this houndstooth scarf from Lord and Taylor: By the way, L&T is having a sale right now. Extra 20% off of regular and sale merchandise online and in store. Code online: SALE. Go to the website for a print out coupon.

You can also go for the Bohemian look which is very big right now (the second is from ModCloth):

There's always the playful youth look, like with this camera themed scarf from Banana Republic (they are having a huge sale, by the way, and daily specials this week because of their online anniversary):

Or you can just stay warm with a solid color, or bright colored scarf like this one:

As far as boots goes right now, let me first start off by saying Ugg boots are never in style. Lord do I hate them. What is in style? Boots that look like English riding boots (note: not Cowboy boots-but boots that do have a western feel to them are ok) and boots that have a rocker flair to them. Fall is the perfect time to break out your tall boots with a dress, leggings, or jeans. But if you tuck your pants in them, just make sure it's a pair of skinny jeans otherwise they look too bunchy on top. A note of caution, it's really hard to find affordable good quality tall boots. I always buy mine when they go on sale in January. And I always go in store so I can try them on. I don't even have big calves, but it can be very hard to find boots that fit them. Here's a few options from both sides of the coin:

From DSW:

From Payless:

From Lord and Taylor:

And my personal favorite right now from Banana Republic:

Now the last important piece of fall clothing? The blazer! I don't think blazers will ever go out of fashion and if you buy the right style you can break it out again for the Spring (although generally the Olives or dark plaids don't work). I think any of these would be good for the Spring too.

From Gap (who just announced international shipping and is also having a sale. Use GAPSAVE20 to get an additional 20% off everything):


From Ann Taylor Loft:

A word to the wise about this last jacket. The Chanel 1960s look is very big right now but don't get sucked into buying suits just like Jackie O. I love the 60s, and I love Jackie O, but a full suit looks dated. It's really hard to modernize that like you can with other things. I personally like to dress like I'm from the 60s on a regular basis, but even I won't do that one. Too obvious and not very flattering on me. I'd stick with the jacket and a solid color pair of pants or pencil skirt or jeans if it's not for work. You still look polished without looking like a Halloween costume.

Back to my real job now!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Some things I'll bet you didn't know about me...

10 Fun Facts

1. I have the best long term memory ever, but the worst short term memory. Nick thinks I nag a lot, but really I truly can't remember the answer to my question. Old age is going to be so much fun.
2. My favorite foods are cheese, ice cream, pumpkin & butternut squash, pizza from NYC, and chocolate chip cookies that my dad makes.
3. When I say that my mom is one of the smartest people I know, everyone always goes, "aw, that's so nice." But it's not nice, it's true. The other smartest people I know are my brother, myself, and my AP English teacher.
4. It is possible to be hugged too much as a child. I would know, I was one of them. Now I can't get enough hugs and will probably screw my kids up for life too. Thank God Nick understands and is always ready to be there for me when I need a fix.
5. At one point in my life I had read almost every Nancy Drew book every written. The only reason that's not the case anymore is because they keep writing them.
6. The only thing I want to be more than a Clinical Psychologist is a mom.
7. My dad has an encyclopedia-like knowledge of music and pop culture. I am trying really hard to be like him when I grow up.
8. I drool, a lot, when I sleep.
9. I will probably grow up to be a crazy cat lady. It is so hard not to adopt a third one, but Nick would kill me and I promised him we'd get a dog next. Boo.
10. I didn't really think moving to California through until I was driving through Pennsylvania on 8/14/10 (ie. the first 8 hours of our road trip here).

10 Goofy Questions

1. Do you take the shampoos and conditioner bottles from hotel? - Of course. I rarely ever get enough shampoo or conditioner for my hair anyway, so whenever you use some or pack it away they give you more. Then I have enough for that trip and possibly the next as well. Although, all my leftovers under the bathroom sink drive Nick insane.

2. Would you rather be attacked by a big bear or a swarm of a bees? Um, I guess neither is not an option? I'm going with bees because at least they won't maim me like a bear will.

3. Do you ever dance even if there's no music playing? All the time. I think our neighbors must think I'm nuts. I also dance in the I think the general public must think I'm nuts.

4. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper? Yesterday, I wrote a letter to my cousin, Jillian. I love to write letters mainly because who doesn't like to get a nice hand written note? Sometimes it's just a nice way to say hi. I think in the last two weeks I've written four. I used to have a few pen-pals, and I wish I had one again.

5. Best thing to eat for breakfast? That's a toughie. My dad grew up with big breakfasts on the weekends with classical music playing in the background so he continued that tradition with us. Waffles or chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, and eggies with cheese were staples in our house on Saturday mornings. And because breakfast was such a huge deal, it was the first thing both my brother and I taught ourselves how to make. Subsequently, I make a lot of really good breakfasts. To choose between my french toast (which I think might be Nick's favorite), banana orange pancakes, salmon eggs benedict? I don't know...there's too many to choose.

6. Which are better Legos or Lincoln Logs? Oh, definitely Lincoln Logs. But I'm really old fashioned when it comes to toys. Besides my Barbies and My Little Ponies, one of my favorite toys was a set of pieces you put together to make a marble obstacle course. Then you put the marbles in the top piece and watched them go through. My mom and I could spend hours doing that. And I loved my blocks growing up just as much as my Nintendo (which I only had Super Mario Bros 1-3 and Wheel of Fortune for).

7. Is Christmas stressful? Absolutely not! This is my favorite time of the year. Colors, smells, snow and cold weather, clothes, food, music, shopping for presents, decorations, the crowdedness of Rockefeller Center in NYC...but I must be the only person who actually enjoys that and making food for 3 days for 10+ people at Christmas dinner.

8. Occupations you wanted to be when you were a kid? Teacher (Kindergarten then music then English), police woman, nail artist, fashion designer, chef, writer, rock stair, actress. I'm glad I'm going to be a psychologist.

9. Who was your HS crush? I had so many. I was very boy crazy in high school, but I was really good at keeping it under wraps. My whole life revolved around the 10 boys I liked. Did they look at me in the hallway? How can I make sure I'm in their group during class? Oh my god he talked to me!! I think if I had a little bit more self confidence I would have had a lot of boyfriends.

10. DJ or band, at a wedding? This was a huge area of contention when we were planning our wedding. My dad is a musician and works in a wedding band. Everyone in my family wanted a band and my dad's band even offered to play for us for free. But Nick and I are HUUUUGGGEE music nerds and as talented as my dad's band was, I knew they couldn't possibly learn all the songs we wanted played at our wedding. We opted for a DJ (Brian Swatek) and he was phenomenal. Everyone was happy and the dance floor was full the whole night. I am so glad we opted for DJ and didn't listen to everyone.

Want to share anything about you that's fun or answer the questions?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Restaurant Review: Dirt Candy

As a vegetarian it's really hard to find good food that is not overly doused with flavor. Most chefs think that vegetables are too bland and need traditional Asian or Hispanic seasonings to kick things up a notch. Every restaurant has almost the same exact menu with subtle changes once in awhile. Personally, I generally don't even like those kinds of cuisines (much to the disappointment of my husband who loves Indian and Mexican food), and I really need to be in the mood to have them even if I did eat meat on a regular basis. Ao I really don't want to go to any more restaurants that force tofu with vegetables and curry, cilantro, or soy sauce on me. When I found Dirt Candy all that changed.

Run by Amanda Cohen, Dirt Candy's motto is, "Anyone can cook a hamburger, but leave the vegetables to the professionals." That is so true. I can't even tell you the number of times I have gone out with friends and had to bat around several restaurant ideas always concluding with me saying something along the lines of, "ok, I can eat something here." Sometimes I really love the restaurant and sometimes it's just a compromise and I'm stuck watching everyone order amazing food while I am less than enthused by steamed vegetables, or just plain pasta with sauce. At Dirt Candy, though, everything is vegetarian and anything can be made vegan too. They are on my turf, but at least they have great menu options!

Now, before you click on to the next entry because you're not interested in rabbit food, let me just show you some pictures from the website. Like the jalepeno hush puppies with maple butter. I am not a fan of spicy food and even I could not stop eating the appetizer THAT MY MEAT EATING FRIEND ORDERED. My appetizer was a pumpkin salad with several types of winter squash. Normally I think of pumpkin with ravioli, pie, or as a side, but here it was with some spice and blue cheese croutons. Again, not your typical way to eat vegetables. Not your typical vegetarian food.

During our meal, I also ordered Parsnip Gnocchi with Creamy Root Vegetable Slaw, Sour Red Cabbage and Carrot Cake Crumbs. It much lighter than regular gnocchi, and the vegetables had a sweet and sour tug of war going on that was really satisfying. And Carrot Cake bread crumbs on top? Undoubtedly delicious, and whoever said dessert had to come last never had Parsnip Gnocchi from Dirt Candy.

By the time my friend and I left the restaurant, we were both sufficiently stuffed and I even had a free dinner (a mistake was made and my leftovers were thrown out instead of put in a doggy bag). The only reason I've never gone back was purely because of lack of time. Like Spring Street Natural menus, just like vegetables, are seasonal. If you go, just make sure you make a reservation ahead of time. The restaurant is very tiny and fills up fast on date night. They can seat you, but you will have to wait awhile, and with the colder weather quickly approaching wouldn't you rather be enjoying those warm hush puppies and glass of wine and not outside freezing your butt off?

Here's a few other pictures of some of the amazing food:

Now doesn't that make you want to eat all your vegetables?

Restaurant Review: Spring Street Natural

I think Spring Street Natural is probably my favorite restaurant of all time. I stumbled upon the restaurant Christmas season of 2006 while doing my Holiday shopping in the Soho area of New York City. Starving and tired, my friend and I decided it was time to finally eat lunch (I think by then it was 4pm) and as usual had a hard time picking out a restaurant. I generally do not eat meat unless it's locally and ethically raised, and he may as well eat raw steaks all the time, plus he's a very picky eater. After what seemed like an eternity we looked at the menu for Spring Street Natural and both were happy enough to go inside.

The first thing that I really liked about the restaurant was the decor. It's simple and rustic with open glass windows and light colored wood tables and chairs. Yet, it's not dress down plain; it's warm and inviting. At night, when the lights are on low, and tea lights are burning on the table it has the feeling of a cozy cabin. It's casual enough to go with a group of friends in jeans; but because of the nighttime ambiance and jazz trio that plays a few nights a week, I also suggested it as a neutral meeting ground for many first days. Meat eating boys could be happy because there was chicken and steak on the menu (that incidentally I could eat if I wanted because they were free range from farms on Long Island), and I could go for the creative vegetarian parts of the menu too.

Everything I've tried on the menu has been delicious and everyone I have ever introduced to the restaurant has liked it too. And the best part is that the price points for a lot of the items are very reasonable. You can get the Pan Roasted Free Range Chicken for $17, Organic Rice and Seasonal Vegetable Dinner with $12.50, or Pumpkin Ravioli for $18. Some of the red meat or fish dishes go up to $24, but their sandwiches, like the Grilled Grass-Fed Hanger Sandwich is $15. And there are salads and appetizers that are around $10, plus or minus $2-3.

I've tried all the dishes I mentioned, but if I had to name a favorite dish it would be a toss up between the Goat Cheese Ravioli with Pesto sauce and zuchinni and the Grass-Fed Steak with blue cheese and caramelized onions (because of Nick's love of this dish, I have replicated a different version of this meal several times at home and will eventually put up a recipe for it). I loved the ravioli because the cheese was not dry and overcooked, and the pesto was creamy with a rich nutty flavor. It wasn't too salty or too garlicy. All the flavors were perfectly balanced, and it was a great summer meal that you could relax with after a hard day at work. Bring me a Mangorita (my drink of choice at SSN), and I'm in heaven. But I also loved the steak which was a great fall/winter dish, with a side of buttery mashed potatoes. The mixture of savory, sweet, and tangy was also a perfect blend of flavors. As I often say to Nick, I like food that confuses my mouth (ie. hits on different areas of my tongue), and that meal is definitely one that does that. Nick paired that with a glass of red wine and was so happy it was like a scene from When Harry Met Sally. When I ordered it another time we went I stuck with my Mangorita, but the red wine is obviously a better drink choice.

Dessert was no slouch either. With an ever changing dessert menu you never really know what's going to be served (a trio of ice cream, chocolate torte, apple blueberry cake, etc.), but I love the fruit desserts the best. Generally they were warm, served with ice cream, and always delicious.

Menus are seasonal and change every few months with daily specials. However, some items do stay the same or only change slightly. So don't be surprised if you're favorite isn't on there for long, but you can always find a new one! I can't recommend this restaurant enough, I've never been disappointed and I will definitely be stopping by the next time I'm home.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sales for Monday & the best place for sales and coupons

I'm thinking that maybe every Monday I'll post about the sales going on, unless something is extraordinarily amazing and needs to be posted about another time.

First up, though, I wanted to share with you my favorite places for coupons, coupon codes, and sales:

Mommy Saves Big - Now, I'm not a mommy, but I think we all save big with this one. These are printable coupons sectioned off by category. All stores are listed alphabetically and you can see all the coupons that are currently valid, and some that are expired too.

Retail Me Not - This website generally has coupon codes with a helpful status bar that tells you whether the code is reliable or not. Sometimes they have printable coupons as well. - This website compiles all the sales online (and in store) and tells you what's going on. My sales I posted are generally ones that I get newsletters about and will be pretty repetitive after awhile, but this website has EVERYTHING.

JCrew- 20% off all women's pants with free shipping for orders over $100 with the coupon code SHIP100. 3 days only
Bloomingdales - is having an online only sale of 20-40% off select items.
Macy's - Is still having their home sale but with an extra 20% off of Calphalon cookware. Free shipping after $99 if you buy Calphalon with the code CHEFFAVS. And If you buy $150 of bedding or bath stuff you get free shipping with the code DESIGN.
Bath and Body Works - As usual is having sales. Same signature collection sale, plus 2 for $10 4oz candles and $6 Shea hand cream. Same shipping deal as well.
Banana Republic - Not only did Banana's fall sale just start, but this week they're celebrating their online anniversary. So they're having a special online sale 30% off men's suits and $98 women's dresses until 10/3. Free shipping when you spend $100 with the code BRFREE100. They also say to come back tomorrow for another birthday treat.
Crate and Barrel - In addition to their Fall upholstery sale, CB also has Mario Batali's enamel cast iron cookware set on sale for up to 15% off. There is also a cutlery sale, up to 30% off.
Sears - is having a sale (an extra 5-15% off) of Craftsman tools plus free shipping with the code ShipVantage. The great thing about Craftsman is the lifetime warranty on everything you buy (my dad really takes advantage of this and gets replacements and repairs for nothing). There's also a sale on clothes and Halloween costumes and decorations. I've also heard that in some areas, in store, there are huge sales going on for home appliances that have been discontinued.

You haven't seen spiders until you've come to California

Someone said the title of that post to my husband before we moved. I'm not sure why, maybe Nick was telling them about my intense fear of them. All sizes from small to big, I am terrified of. And I am even more scared that our cats will chase and eat them and some out be bitten and have a horrible allergic reaction to them...I have problems.

Since we've moved here on three separate occasions I've seen HUGE spiders (about 2 inches big with thick legs and spotted bodies) crawling around and always in the most inopportune places. On a lotion bottle I was unpacking the first day we got here. Climbing up the drain into the sink in the bathroom. In the bathtub when I'm naked and about to get in. Especially after that last time, Nick now makes fun of me non-stop. Well, he already has, I guess I just keep giving him good ammo.

For example, before we got our second cat, I was getting ready for work and as usual Batman (our tuxedo tabby) was following me around in the apartment. Suddenly he stops, crouches low to the ground, and his tail starts to twitch. I ask him what's the matter and he chirps a bit, gaze fixed at a point on the wall. I look and realize there is the biggest spider I've ever seen in my life crawling on the wall.

Suddenly, Batman strikes! He shakes his cute little butt the way cats do when they're about to pounce and he starts trying to climb up the wall to get to his prey (standing on the handle of a basket, climbing up a set of drawers like a tree trunk, etc.). As usual my motherly instinct and irrational fear kicks in and I immediately think the spider is going to bite him (no where does it dawn on me that he routinely hunts bugs and eats them and nothing has ever happened). So I think of the only way I feel safe killing the thing. I pick a magazine I don't mind losing (Rolling Stone with the Jonas brothers on the cover) and hurl it at the wall. Effectively killing and smushing spider guts all over the wall, legs twitching and everything.

Now I'm grossed out. I've got the heebee jeebees and kind of want to throw up too, but Batman is still trying to get at the carcaus on the wall. So I decide to tape a wad of tissues on there and let Nick deal with it when he comes home...9 1/2 hours later.

The hunter himself.

So maybe I deserved to be made fun of for that one. But if that's the case then Nick can be made fun of for this next one.

Nick is a beer drinker, and as part of our budgeting each week, every other week we are each allowed to buy one kind of alcohol for ourselves. Last weekend Nick opted for a 6 pack and since the beer was really good (a Fall IPA), he drank 3 bottles in the course of 2 hours and proceeded to get a little drunk. When the time came for us to watch a movie on Netflix I called him in from the office and I hear him go, "Holy shit!" I ask him what's going on, and he said, "spider, stay in the bedroom." Like the little girl I am I cower under the covers thinking that that has to be the thing that will keep me safe from the spider in the next room. And next thing I hear is a crash, crash, and ow.

Moral of the story: don't stand on a swivel chair when you are drunk trying to kill a spider on the ceiling. And if you must protect your lady-fair from the killer spider, then use one of these:

It sends a small electric shock to the bug either stunning or killing it with a little tap. All guys love them...this could be a very good Christmas present...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Impressing for Less with Late Summer's Veggies

Peppers, eggplant, cantaloupes, apples, potatoes, figs, shallots, certain tomatoes, grapes, okra, green beans, and a whole host of other goodies are seasonally harvested as the end of summer. And now that fall is approaching some of my favorites are also available, like pumpkin, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, artichokes, brussels sprouts, parsnips and pears. In an attempt to keep cooking with produce that is seasonal, for our first dinner guests in our California apartment, I scoured my cookbooks to come up with a recipe that might include some vegetables from the above lists.

I tend to always go to the same cookbooks, so first I decided to go through all of my books and use post it notes to flag off recipes that I want to try (it helps to cut down on future searching time). And once I had done that I settled on a recipe from Impress for Less. My mom got us Impress for Less and it is one of the perfect cookbooks for us. We're big foodies, and this book basically gives you recipes from famous/expensive restaurants in several different cities around the country so that you can make really good and creative food for less than you would have spent going out to eat.

Now I admit, because I was really excited to have people over (two students in my PhD program who were coming over to study for our first quiz) I went a little bit over board. But they claimed to be foodies as well, and I promised them a good meal, so I rationalized that it would be ok to cook so much.

My main dish was the macaroni and cheese I wrote an entry about a little while ago. And while that's definitely enough food for four people, as I said earlier, I wanted to make some seasonal veggie dishes just to pretend to be healthy. So I made up one dish and picked another from the Impress for Less book.

Roasted Tomatoes:
-2 Shallots
-5-6 crimini mushrooms
-1 package of grape or cherry tomatoes
-fresh rosemary
-olive oil

1. Take tomatoes (I like smaller ones like a cherry or grape sized) and put them in a baking dish (like a pie dish) that has sides. Cover with a little bit of olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until they become soft and/or start to pop.
2. On the stove top, cook sliced scallions in olive oil for a few minutes. Then as they start to cook add some crimini mushrooms that you've also sliced up. Once the mushrooms start to look like they're a little cooked add fresh rosemary.
3. When the scallions and mushrooms are just about completely cooked take the tomatoes out of the oven and dump the contents of your frying pan in the pie dish. Give everything a good stir and drop the temperature of the oven to 200 degrees. Let the food cook for another 5 minutes and if everything looks cooked, then it's time to serve otherwise let it cook and keep checking until it's done.

With this next recipe, I changed it around because when I went to the super market I forgot to pick up some ingredients and then purposely left out others. You can click the link to get the real recipe, but mine is listed here.

From Impress for Less - Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, blue cheese, and Green Apples:
-olive oil
-1 cup peel and diced Gala Apples (you can use any but I liked these because they were sweet with only a little bit of tartness)
-8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter
-2 tablespoons sugar
-1 tablespoon cinnamon
-1/2 cup of sweet dry wine (like Riesling)
-5 slices of smoked bacon
-3 cups of Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
-1 1/2 tablespoons of a good quality smoked BBQ sauce** see note at bottom
-1/4-1/2 cup of crumbled blue cheese

1. Fry bacon until it's semi cooked in a frying pan. You don't want them to be crispy because you will be baking it again later. Save the fat in cup or bowl. Cut the bacon into 1 inch pieces and put them in a baking dish. Preheat the oven for 350 degrees- but don't put the dish in there now.
2. When you've dumped the fat in a bowl, without cleaning out the pan add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When it starts to get hot add the apples. Give them a stir and after one minute add 4 tablespoons of butter. When the butter begins to brown add the 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. When the sugar begins to caramelize (that's when it bubbles up like it's boiling), add the wine.
3. Cook the apple mixture for 5-8 minutes. Let some of the liquid evaporate, but not all of it. When it's done, spoon out the apple with a slotted spoon into the baking dish with the bacon and continue to let the contents of the frying pan cook. Keep your slotted spoon handy and keep stirring it so the liquid doesn't burn. After a minute or two dump that into the baking dish.
4. Take a paper towel and clean up pan (it doesn't have to be perfectly clean, but make sure you get the bottom of the pan where the dribble went). Then dump the bacon fat you saved back into the pan and heat it up.
5. When the fat is hot again, add the brussels sprouts face down. When they begin to cook a little bit add the rest of the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the butter completely melts flip the brussels sprouts over (I found it easiest to use tongs, and don't worry if some of the leaves come off).
6. When they've cooked for another 3 minutes dump the entire contents of the pan into the baking dish, add the smokey BBQ sauce, and stir everything around. Then put it in the oven (do not put a top on) and bake for 10-15 minutes until the brussels sprouts become tender.
7. Serve in the baking dish with the crumbled blue cheese on top.

At first I was skeptical of all the cinnamon and how liquidy this dish seemed to be before putting it in the oven. But after it came out and we were eating it with the macaroni and cheese, it was the perfect side dish to it. Smokey, sweet, with a bit of a kick from the cheese. Sometimes I impress even myself!

**A note about the BBQ sauce. So I think this is the second time I've mentioned using a good quality BBQ sauce and I know it will not be my last. When I keep talking about that, I'm not talking about going to the super market and buying one step up from Heinz, I mean a specialty sauce. My personal favorite is the Smoked Maple Chipotle finishing sauce from Bittersweet Herb Farms. I discovered them at an Artisan Craft fair in Tarrytown, NY and Nick and I are addicted to it. The craft fair is expensive, and we like to go to see the art (both wearable and not), but we save our money for the gourmet food and buy 3 at a time to get a discount. Three lasts us just about a year and I put it in half the stuff I cook, steak, hamburgers, and obviously vegetable dishes...I think at heart I might be from the South...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

How to give a good gift

Nick's birthday is rapidly approaching and while I have already gotten him his gift, a few other people have been asking me what he might want. In all honesty, this is one of the first years I'm not entirely sure what to say. In years past I have usually gone with clothes. He needed white t-shirts, socks, new underwear, and a general beefing up of his wardrobe (as do most guys in the first 5 years you date them). But now that he has everything he needs (and then some), he has been a little bit of a challenge for me.

Normally I'm very good at gift giving, and some of my cousins have even told me that I always give the best presents. I think a key part of this is that I care more about making other people happy than getting a thank you, or buying them the latest coolest thing that I love. So since I struggled with coming up with a list of even five things to tell my mother that Nick wanted (and didn't consist of things like "a new flat screen TV"), and Christmas is coming when I will need to do the whole process over again for him, except now I have to add into the fact that I need to figure out what to buy him from me, and what to get 3 other problem people on my list; I figured an entry about gift giving might help refocus me and help you to shop for those problem people on your Holiday lists this year.

Step 1. Figure out what your budget is, or if you have a budget at all. Compile your coupons, and shop during sales. Obviously I cannot afford to buy Nick his flat screen TV. And this year for Christmas we are trying to keep to a strict budget as well. I've always been known to give too generously and get us into trouble in the month of January. But not this year! And in my recent purchases for others (yes, I do start Christmas shopping this early) I have been pretty good about that.

Step 2. Ask the person what they want. Yeah, I know that is a no brainer, but sometimes it's just easier than playing the guessing game and always being wrong. For example: "Nick, what do you want for your birthday this year? I know some things, but I really can't think of anything that is easily feasible for most people?" "Akido lessons, a Kindle, a fan for the office." All things I had no idea he wanted. So now I have three things on my list.

Step 3. Think about what the person needs. For Nick, this is an easy one. He lives with me. He is my husband. So I know what he/we need around the apartment and things that bother him. We need a new DVD player for upstairs as the hand-me-down we have is shot. And I'd like it to have a VCR so we can play my old videos from when I was little once in awhile. He needs some new coffee mugs because a couple of the ones he has are pretty old and are starting to smell. He always needs more underwear and white t-shirts. He uses a lot of blank DVDs and CDs because he works in IT and he's constantly working on other peoples' computers and uses them up. We also need more wall art that is not photography, but I can't afford that...or maybe I can if the store is right. Ok, so now I have a few more things to add to that list.

Step 4. Think about what the person likes (ie. NOT what YOU like) and their hobbies. Nick likes Batman, Russel Crowe, things that are corny, horror movies, coffee, chocolate, physics, wine, the color blue, little gadgets, beer, steins, things that are Italian or German (his heritage), and the Dalai Lama. I do not like horror movies, physics, most beer, little gadgets, and I honestly think a lot of the things the Dalai Lama says are common sense so I don't see what the big deal is. But we're talking about gifts for Nick here, and if it's something I think that will make him happy, then I need to suck it up and get it for him.

Step 5. Compile your list (with his priorities) and don't get side tracked when you go in the store:
-A kindle
-Akido lessons*
-DVD player
-a rotating fan
-any Batman DVD
-joke books, especially if it has to do with zombies or Halloween
-gourmet coffee
-travel mugs and other coffee accessories*
-wall art
-beer guides (oh wait, he already has one. Scratch that.) Make that a wine guide for Northern California*
-Piny the Elder beer*
-a bottle of red wine
-wine aerator (already has a red one, maybe a white one? Unless that's too selfish because I'm the white drinker in the house.) So maybe the aerator stand I talked him out of getting
-a gadget from Restoration Hardware
-fancy chocolate bars or peppermint bark
-a stein*
-Dalai Lama quote books*

Step 6. Make sure the presentation is nice. And if you're not a good wrapper, that's what gift bags are for.

So I think I just figured out what I'm going to get Nick for Christmas. This was quite helpful!

Here are some other tips to think about:
-Give gender (no chainsaws to women) and age appropriate gifts (for kids, you may need to ask parents what kinds of things they're into because for some there is a huge mental age and taste variation). This also means don't get a kid an adult gift or a young child a gift you think will teach them a lesson. Chances are they won't learn the lesson (they probably won't even figure it out when they're older) and only learn that you give lame gifts.
-Give a gift that has meaning (either to the person or one describes your relationship with them)
-Give a gift that doesn't say you don't care about the person (even if you really don't)
-If someone needs money (like a poor college student, or someone saving to for a major purchase like a house, or said flat screen tv), it's ok to give them money
-Sometimes the trendiest thing you can find is a good gift, sometimes it's not. This depends on the person (see step 4)
-Even if you get Nick those white t-shirts for his birthday, make sure you give him something else this way you're not just giving a bland gift

Friday, September 17, 2010

Facebook Page

Young Broke and Married now has a Facebook page. You can click "Like" at the bottom of each page on the blog or click here to check it out.

I'd appreciate any liking that goes on and sharing of the page with friends. Just trying to promote and get some readers this way I'm motivated to write and keep myself in check budget-wise!

The Real Costs of Education

This week, in only my second week of classes, I have already experienced a major high and low with respect to the length/cost/amount of work to be done for this program. For those of you who are unaware, I'm currently enrolled in a Clinical Psychology PhD program. When I'm done, in 5 years, I'll be a psychologist. My school is pretty flexible in the sense that some people who come in with Masters in Psychology (like I already have) can do the program in 4 years if they have the right classes to transfer. I am not one of the students, but one of the professors and I talked about a possibility that might work in helping me get out early. Long story short, it's not possible because of certain rules about ordering for taking class, doing your practicum, and your dissertation. Coming into the program I already expected to do it in 5 years, but got my hopes up when I thought that maybe my MA might actually be worth the money I paid and put myself into debt over. But when that turned out not to be the case I was extremely disappointed. It's not anyone's fault, I mean, maybe it's the APA's fault for having such strict rules about stuff. But when you go into such a nitpicky profession where people get sued left and right and people's mental health lies in your hands, I can understand the need to regulate and be strict about training.

In any event, because this week I also deposited my loan refund check into the bank (ie. the amount of money I now have to live in for the next 3 months as decided by my federal loan) and it's a lot more money than I initially thought it would be, I've been freaking out a little bit about just how much this part of my education is going to cost me.

Thanks to my mother's unending penny pinching and need to plan everything financial as far in advance as possible, I managed to go to college and not take out any loans. From the moment she discovered she was pregnant (and I am really not lying about this), she began to save for my education. When I was little, we were poor, so she started out small at first, whatever was manageable $5, $10, etc. and grew as her income did. She also saved most monetary gifts we received as children (when you're 5, do you really need the $300 you got for your birthday? Maybe you need $10 or 15, and the rest can be saved). At one of her long term jobs she participated in an income tax free savings program where she took out bonds specifically for education (we paid the tax later when cashing the bonds as opposed to it coming out of her paycheck). And she enrolled us in an amazing program called New York Saves, that is kind of like a Mutual Fund for college. You give them money, they invest, and you get more money back when you cash in for school (many states have 529 programs, not just New York).

While in many areas of life the penny pinching drove me nuts growing up (see my example of back to school clothes shopping), this is one area I hope to emulate when I have kids. This education cost calculator I found really scares me about how much my future child's education might be. But I wonder how much of this is hype and how much of it is true. Right now our economy is in crisis and many schools are raising tuition at alarmingly high rates because the schools are also in crisis. Could things slow down if they get better? Could there be future reform because a degree is so necessary yet only easily attainable by middle and maybe eventually only upper classes? And what about the fact that right now my salary before I stopped working was good by national standards, but ok for local standards. When I am done with school my potential salary could either double or triple depending on the kind of job I get. Even though the bottom line dollar scares the crap out of me, knowing what I could be making by the time I send my theoretical kids to school puts me at ease, but only a little. I have often said that my goal in life (financially) is to make enough money to send my kids to whatever college they want without having to sacrifice other things like a family vacation, or nice Christmas presents, or food on the table. I'm starting to realize now that the combined salary my husband and I will need to be making to do that is going to fall around 300K. Really!? Who can do that?!

But getting back to the story, because I graduated a year early (APs in high school really helped me out), my mother actually had money left over; so after I received my more than generous graduation gift purchased with some of that, my left over bonds and NY Saves money, in addition to the money I got from working part or full time, went towards my Master's Degree. I only took out one small loan at the end because I wanted to pay off the credit card debt I accumulated and start saving for my wedding. I tried my best to avoid taking out a loan mainly because I knew going into my PhD I would be going into some major debt. And I wanted to do my best to avoid any kind of debt before getting here.

Now that I'm here and my first year loan totals are already more than what my mother paid for my entire undergrad education, and are about the same, maybe even more than what I paid for my Masters, shaving off that extra year looked so good to me. I mean, if I could save 50K, why wouldn't I want to do that? One bad thing about my school is they charge you a full time tuition regardless of how many credits you take, so there is no give when you don't register for the full amount. It actually makes me really angry when I think about it, and most of the people who work there agree that it's a bad practice. So it's a little frustrating to me that it won't ever change.

I started to think about my loan repayment options (thankfully I have many loan forgiveness opportunities as a health care worker, or (potentially) a woman in non-for-profit research, and a minority getting a higher level education degree). And since right now my grades are not high enough to qualify for most grants or scholarships this year I have to hold off on applying for things. Websites like Fast Web and list out tons of scholarships (that are real) that you can apply to each year. (Be warned though that you will be spammed when you sign up for them with other bogus and real but annoying notifications.) I have used the websites in the past and applied for some, but never got anything, or always looked at the wrong times of the year (each scholarship is different so I don't think there's ever a right time to look, unless you're looking for next year. Then at least you have a leg up on when you need to get applications, apply for things, etc. Keeping a scholarship calendar helps). But until I get my grades for this year, and they are hopefully at least a 3.5 or higher, it's not worth doing anything about.

So many articles are out right now about the "real" cost of a college education. Money you lose by not working vs. debt + money you could gain from more competitive job offerings. Money spent on textbooks, room and board or rent. Money spent on paying to print papers, pencils, laptops, and all kinds of things you may or may not need. It's dizzying when you total it up, and think about the kind of loan you'd have to take out just to pay for a coffee, a 3 subject notebook, and 150 pages worth of printing paper to print out your dissertation.

The epidemic of the chaos caused by the need vs. the cost definitely scares me. We are not all independently wealthy and cannot afford 100K+ education costs. In the meantime I am going to cling to my loan forgiveness, get my grades up, then stalk in hopes something pans out.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

DIY Ways to Decorate for Fall

As we switch to the fall months and Nick and I prepare for a series of guests (it seems like every other week starting in October people will be visiting us from out East), all I keep thinking about it how to make our home festive for the season.

We have a few things that we acquired over the last couple of years, various kinds of fake pumpkins (glass, wicker, etc.), and a couple of other other odds and ends. The majority of that is great for Halloween, but what do I do after that when Thanksgiving rolls around? I can't keep my Frankenstein Garland up for that.

So this morning I set out to figure out how I can decorate my house for Halloween, but still have a few things that I can leave up when that holiday is over. Of course you can always look at the standard websites like Martha Stewart for decorating ideas and Southern Living also had a video with ideas and a few other videos talking about other projects. But after doing some internet searches the website that I found with the most comprehensive yet basic list of things to do (and how to do them)

Overall it seemed like the biggest theme was use of color and nature's own ornaments to decorate your space. For example, one of's ideas was to decorate your mantle piece like these:

Mini pumpkins (which you can get just about anywhere during the season), a fake ivy garland that looks like it's leaves are turning, with some red candles in gold candle holders play with the warm earthy tones that are prominent from September-November. And some of those things you might have at home, or can keep again for next year. So really you just would need to keep buying the mini pumpkins every year. And if you want to get even more elaborate you can go to the craft store and buy some fake or dried flowers that are normally in bloom or popular for this season (like mums or sunflowers, or anything else that's golden yellow, deep orange or reds).

Even something as simple as walking through the woods or trails near your house can produce the supplies you need. Take some twigs and place them around a light like this. And lays that out as the cornerstone of their decorating ideas:
"Take a Walk in the Woods - Some of the most wonderful things you can use to decorate your home for fall are probably in your back yard and won't cost a penny. With a big basket or bucket in hand, collect broken tree branches, cat tails, shafts of wheat, pine cones, or seed pods. You can use just about any natural item in a fall decoration."

A couple of other quick tips they gave that I didn't think of:

Save Your Furniture - Fresh, preserved, and dried items such as leaves, pumpkins, or gourds get soft and "bleed" after a short time. To protect your furniture, either natural wood or painted, always assemble your decoration on a platter, plastic wrap, plate, wooden board, or aluminum foil. This will make it easier to move it to another location, too.

Plan Your Storage Before You Start - If they're stored carefully, most dried corn and wheat stalks, preserved leaves, and berries will last for several years. To keep bugs out, keep your fall decorating items in air-tight plastic storage boxes. Because they tend to be bulky, you might need more than one box. Carefully label the box and store it in a dry lace. Label garlands and other decorations so you know where to put them the next year.

Other pretty popular items were red berries, grape bunches, leaves, apples, pears, gourds, corn, pine cones, and candy.

What's this you say about candy? I don't mean pint sized Milky Ways, I mean this idea from

Taking some candy corn or seasonally colored M&Ms you can put them in hurricane jars, empty bottles, or preserving jars...I think I may try this out (and hope Nick doesn't eat all the candy in a week).

And of course, switching out little things like candles, table cloths, and other linens add to the overall effect as well. My summer decor is lemon and green themed. I don't think lemons and pumpkins go well together. Haha.

I'm not entirely ready to get that into a project right now (homework is a real bummer on any fun time of the year). But now that I've whet all of our whistles I think this weekend my big chore will to be to turn our Summer apartment into a Fall one. Off the top of my head I already know which table cloth I'll use, and which decorations I want to take out of storage. And I think there are a few ideas from the websites I want to try out as well. Unfortunately for us we don't have all the great free-bee outdoor options that the East does, but I'll see what I can do. I'll be sure to post pictures to follow up next week.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Movie Review: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

When Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (originally released in 2005 in a limited run) first came out I watched the movie trailer on and thought the movie looked like it could be funny so I wanted to see it. But you know how things go, you want to get to the movie theater but then a million things come up and the next thing you know it's three months later and you're waiting for it to come out on DVD to rent. Well this was before Netflix came into my life; so when I did sign up I made sure to put that movie on there.

Last Tuesday I was very excited when it arrived in my mailbox and the whole week I begged my husband to watch it. But like before, things came up and we pushed it off until Sunday when I told him he had no choice, he had to watch it. First thing out of his mouth was, "is this gonna be another one of your weird movies that I've never heard of?" (I tend to read a lot of descriptions of random movies and add those or other things Netflix thinks I'll like, what can I say, I really like movies). Luckily for him though, part buddy movie, part romance, part mystery, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has something that will make everyone happy. And much to Nick's surprise, he was laughing hysterically and trying to solve the mystery right along with the characters.

New Yorker Harold (Robert Downey Jr.) is a small time crook who evades the police by auditioning for a movie part and is whisked away to L.A. where he stumbles across a dead body during detective training. Pretty soon after that, the dead body and high school sweetheart turned wannabe actress, Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), wind up in Harold's hotel room and the chase is on. Harold teams with his agent Perry (Val Kilmer, who really steals the show with his dry wit and gay humor) and Harmony to solve the mystery of the dead body and Harmony's newly deceased sister all the while tying in the story of Harmony's childhood hero from a series of detective novels.

Harold self narrates the movie which, like his own scatterbrained conversations in real life, is sometimes all over the place. But instead of being annoying it's used as a comedic device to poke fun at Harold, detective noir, and Hollywood in general. There's a particularly funny scene at the end about bringing famous people back from the dead. It's a blink and you'll miss it moment, so pay attention, but it had us crying from laughing so hard. The main mystery itself was somewhat easily solve-able and I think the writers might have done that on purpose, although the details kept us guessing. I think the point was not to have an impossible mystery to solve, but to keep us laughing while we all solved it together.

I can't really say that the movie overall had any kind of a message, like friends are everything or love conquers all. And the movie of course pokes fun at that too, but this isn't a spoof. It's an intelligent way to look at the mystery genre while making us laugh in the process. I'm going to give it a 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Some sales!

*Crate and Barrel is having a Fall Upholstery sale through October 11th where you can get either 15% or 25% off.
*Express is having a BoGo 50% off sale for women's bottoms and shirts, men's shirts, and jewelry. I think even their coats are on sake too.
*Restoration Hardware is having a Pre Season Sale.
*Pottery Barn is having a home office sale, everything is 20% off through September 15th.
*There are so many sales at Bath and Body Works I may miss some, $6 Wallflowers, 2 for $10 candles, Buy 3 get 2 free or buy 2 get 1 free Signature collection, $3 shipping on all orders over $50, and select items are 50% off.
*J Crew has $10 off of some of their pants. Plus with the code SHIP100 you get free shipping on orders over $100. And in store you always get 10% off with your student ID.
*Macy's has free shipping when you buy home products and spend $75 with the code TAKEHOME. This offer is good through September 16th.
*Sak's 5th Avenue has free shipping on orders of $150 or more with the code SEPSHIP10.
* is having a 48 hour sale on all kinds of good things (you may have to click that link since it's an Omail exclusive. And you may get free shipping as well).

Top 5s of Partying and Entertaining: Part 2

Last year around this time my husband and I decided that we really wanted to throw a theme party at our apartment. Actually, that's a lie. I decided I wanted to have a theme party and he just put up with my wild idea (which tends to be how it goes, we're very much a Lucy and Ricky kind of couple, except I'm the Hispanic one...and hopefully we won't get divorced). I can't remember why, but I decided that the theme should be 1950s Cocktail Party (this was before we were into Mad Men, but I think this kind of a party would be great for a premiere or season finale of that show). And we required everyone to get dressed up, we served little finger foods, and hard drinks.

A lot of our friends don't know each other (we've got our core social group, but then tons of people who aren't part of that), so I really wanted to promote conversation. As I mentioned in my last Top 5 entry, I spread out all my little finger foods all over the apartment to try to get people to mingle and talk. This sort of backfired, but for a very good reason. People were too busy eating all the food to be bothered with socializing. Once they were done eating, then things really kicked into high gear.

So what did I serve them? A variety of things. The normal go-to's like cheese and crackers and nuts, but most of the things I put out were homemade. Cooking for me is a labor of love, and I love entertaining just as much. So while I know sometimes it requires a lot of time and effort to put together a meal, I didn't mind making a ton of little finger foods for our guests (please note, I think I might be insane...or a robot). However, even though most of my dinner recipes take a lot of time, these appetizers don't require anywhere near as much effort.


1. Zucchini & Cheese Crostini

2 zucchini grated
1 2/3 cups of Gruyere Cheese
1 small egg
a dash of worcestershire sauce (or any really high quality smokey meat sauce, plain old BBQ won't do, needs to be really thick and smokey)
a loaf of good bread

Cook in a preheated broiler (or just turn the oven on really high and cook on the top shelf)

Put the grated zucchini in a clear dry kitchen towel and twist tightly, squeezing out all the excess juices. Put in with the rest of the ingredients. Slice up bread and spread on top. Then put on a cookie sheet until the tops get brown (watch very closely it will be different for every oven, mine is usually 5-10 minutes depending on how high I turn it).

This recipe is based on a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks: Easy Breakfast & Brunch

2. Granny's Dates

Pitted dates )if you can't find any, you can always take the nut out yourself)
Crumbled Blue or Gorgonzola Cheese

This recipe (brought to you by my Granny), doesn't have any measurements because how much you need is based on how much you want to make.

First fry your bacon like you would normally do (but don't fry it until it's completely crispy, you want to make sure it's still pliable enough to work with). While those are cooking, slice the dates in half on one side (make a little slit, don't completely cut in half) and stuff with as much cheese as you want. I think a medium amount works best. Press the date back together and when the bacon is cool enough to handle, wrap half a piece around the date and secure with a tooth pick. All done! They can be served warm or cold.

3. Roasted Red Peppers and Goat Cheese

1 Red Pepper
Crumbled Goat Cheese
Fresh Basil

To make a roasted red pepper you must be ok with getting your stove top dirty. Step 1, turn on gas burner. Step 2, put the red pepper on the burner. Step 3, turn the pepper until it's all charred on the outside (make sure you watch it, the pepper will catch fire -which is ok- but you don't want it to get out of control and burn your house down. Step 4, when it's cool enough to handle take the burnt skin off with your hands. All done!

Next you slice the peppers into slivers. You're going to be rolling these up, so they should be thick enough to put some cheese in and not so long that the roll in several layers. Then take some of the goat cheese and a basil leaf and roll inside one of your pepper slivers with a tooth pick. All done!

This recipe is based off of one from Vegetarian Food for Friends.

4. Caramelized Onion Puff Pastries

Half of one medium sized onion (or one small onion)
SMALL puff pastries you can get in your freezer section at the Super market
Gouda Cheese

Start the onions first. These take a long time to cook, but you can start them and then forget about them and come to them towards the end of your meal and you'll be ok.

Generally the rule is one medium onion requires 3 tablespoons of sugar, 3 of olive oil, and 3 of vinegar. If you're working with a smaller onion use 2 of each and add more as necessary. Slice up the onion real thin, then put in your pan with the other ingredients. Cook on medium-high for a few minutes until the onions start to look a little cooked/opaque (stir often), then put the heat down to medium-low until the onions look like they are cooked, then turn the heat down to the lowest setting and forget about them. They'll need to cook for about 30-45 minutes to get that nice dark brown color you see at the restaurants.

Next, cook the pastries according to the directions on the box. When they're done, take the tops off and put in a little bit of cheese and a little bit of your onions. Put the top back on and put in the oven for 2-3 minutes (just enough to get the cheese a little melty). Then you're done!

This can also be done with the larger puff pastries and made into individual appetizers if you're having a sit down dinner party.

5. Fresh Mozzarella and Tomatoes

Who does not love this appetizer? I honestly don't know anyone who doesn't love part or all of it. It's just that good!

1 Long Log of BelGioioso Fresh Mozzarella Cheese (you can use any brand, but this is my absolute favorite brand, the cheapest, and you can get coupons for it too)
2-3 Tomatoes from the vine
Olive Oil
Very good quality vinegar
Basil (optional)

Slice the tomatoes the slice the cheese in pieces needed to cover the tomatoes. Put them together (with the basil as an option, if you're doing the Roasted Red Peppers I wouldn't, too many of the same flavors running around), then place them on your serving dish. Next drizzle the olive oil and vinegar on the plate. The end.

Wow, this just made me really hungry, I think I need to go make myself some breakfast now.


PS. With the exception of the Fresh Mozzarella, all of the cheeses on here you will have some left over of. With the block cheeses, you can easily cut them into a more presentable shape and serve them with crackers and with the crumbled cheeses you can either save them to put on top of a pasta dish or make a quiche with the rest of the package. Nothing gets wasted here!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Google's Greatest Invention Yet

Now that could be a little bit of an overstatement, considering Google's many contributions to our internet driven society. But as a displaced New Yorker in a new time zone where when my minutes kick in, it's midnight on the East Coast, anything that brings my phone bill down is a blessing.

Now, I know that Skype exists, and so I can theoretically talk to my brother on our Mac Books any time I want. But for someone like my mom or dad, who don't have a webcam, or my boss who has a different phone service than I do with even less minutes and poor reception, Google's phone service is ideal.

Basically, if you have a Gmail account, you can now install a small piece of software which will let you use your Gchat function to call people in the US for free and for very low rates internationally. The pop up window looks like this:

and as long as you keep Gmail open and have a microphone somewhere on your computer (again, if you can Skype or do any kind of video chat you're ok) you punch in the number and you're good to go. Very easy to use, if you can use a cell phone, you can use this.

I called my boss on her parent's home phone on Friday and we talked for 2 hours with no dropped calls or other interruptions. There were times when voices sound a little bit like a robot, but it was tolerable. And hey, you get what you pay for...and I'd like to not have $120+ phone bills anymore.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Surpringly Affordable Romantic Getaway

When my husband and I were still a relatively new couple we relished every moment we were able to spend alone together. I still lived at home (in a very full house with my parents, brother, aunt, grandmother, 2 cats, and 2 dogs), and he lived in a studio in the same multi-family house at his mother and brother. It seemed that even when we were alone, there was always someone knocking on the door asking for something or wanting to hang out. Don't get me wrong, we're very social people, but sometimes you just want to be with your honey and no one else.

So that year, for my birthday, we decided to take a little trip to celebrate. The year before my mother and her twin went on their annual birthday ski trip to Vermont and stayed at a little inn that they both raved about, yet always finished each sentence with, "but it would be so much better if you went with someone you loved." We decided it would be the perfect spot for us, booked ourselves a two night stay, and hightailed it outta there.

From the moment we drove up to Deer Hill Inn, we were giddy with delight. We were both pretty young, and had never really went anywhere with a significant other before. So that combined with the picturesque inn we saw in front of made us really excited.

Even though it was April, walking in we immediately felt like we were in a warm and cozy cabin in the middle of winter. Warm fireplaces glowed, all kinds of treats (chocolates, fruit, and cheese) were set out, and kind faces greeted us. The staff at Deer Hill is still the best I have ever encountered at any place I've ever stayed. Run by a lovely couple and their office manager, they were always asking us if they could get us anything and loved to just spend a few minutes chit chatting at breakfast or in the afternoon.

Speaking of breakfast, the food at Deer Hill was amazing. One of the owners is a trained gourmet chef, and the thing I was most upset about when we left was that I'd never have food that good ever again. This was almost 3 years ago and I'm still not sure I have. Every meal from the included breakfast (you can either eat in the dining room or pay at an $15 for room service) to the afternoon tea (which included scones and muffins, just provided because we looked hungry) to our amazing 4 course dinners (ever night was a different menu), was made with the best ingredients from local farms and specialty shops. We never ate lunch, because we were never hungry. And I don't think I was hungry for about 3 days after we left. Needless to say my first full meal after the trip was a huge disappointment and when we sent my parents there as a thank you present for paying for our wedding I begged them to bring back some muffins.

The room itself was just a cozy as the rest of the house. We had a jacuzzi tub plus a separate shower stall, an incredibly comfortable king sized bed and couch, a fireplace, and a small flat screen tv. Even though my mother had packed us a basket of food to take (which included 2 bottles of wine, cheese, crackers, etc.) in our room there was even more complimentary food waiting. Cookies, fruit, bottled water, and fresh bread. Again, it's impossible to be hungry at Deer Hill.

The inn, which is located in West Dover, Vermont, is really close to all kinds of skiing as well as a huge national forest that you can go hiking in. There's also horseback riding and two small artsy fartsy towns you can spend an afternoon in. You can fish or play gold during the summer or go to the local theater to see plays or concerts. So there's definitely quite a bit of options of things to do during a long weekend. Or you can take in the romantic inn and never leave your room. Up to you.

Our whole weekend (including two 4 course dinners with drinks, breakfast in bed, Maple Syrups, and stuff to take home) was around $750 (a little steep, but this was our "vacation" for the year so we didn't care). But we stayed in the largest room they had. Other rooms start around $150 a night and go up to $300 and I found that sometimes if it's an off season the prices can be even lower than what is stated on the website. You could do a whole weekend for around $500. Although there's also a bunch of other cool packages they have that are worth looking into as well.

Here's just a few of the rooms they have (note that the prices listed here are for the peaks of each season and they change depending on the week you want to go and it's cheaper to stay in the middle of the week than on a weekend, so if this is too much, ask the manager if there's anything in your price range and they'll work with you. We stayed in the Tamarack Room and paid A LOT less than what's listed here):

I cannot recommend the inn enough. Visit the website if you're interested, you won't be disappointed if you go.

**All pictures courtesy of Deer Hill Inn's website.
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