Category Archives: Holidays

Recipes specifically for or about any American holiday

Hosting a Cookie Swap Party

Disclaimer: Some of the links take you to a product, which if you buy, will give this blog a tiny commission, so I can eat more cookies. Thanks!

 

With the winter holidays just around the corner, you may be feeling stressed already, sad and anxious, dreading travel and spending time with crazy aunt Millie… or you might be filled with the holly jollies, stringing lights everywhere, humming Christmas tunes to yourself, and dreaming of all the seasonal things you plan to do.

Hopefully, you have several things to look forward to this holiday season. Regardless of if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Quanzaa, the Winter Solstice, or anything else, the winter holiday season is always a season of joy, love, tradition, and generosity. And food. Lots and lots of food. Especially desserts.

If you don’t have holiday traditions already in your own family or friends group, might I recommend starting one?

There are a million and one ways to enjoy the winter, regardless of what you believe, what the weather is like, and where you live. But one of my all-time favorite traditions that I hope to start myself in my new home state is a Cookie Swap.

There are basically two ways to do a Cookie Swap.

  1. Everyone brings already-made cookies, in an agreed-upon amount, and each person goes home with some number of each kind of cookie
  2. Everyone brings a recipe and ingredients, and then you bake them all together; each person still goes home with some number of each kind of cookie

Obviously, the kind of party you could or should host depends upon who has the facilities. If you are all in college or graduate school or tiny one bedroom apartments, then baking six dozen of five kinds of cookies might be a stretch. But if you have a decent sized kitchen with lots of counter space, I’d recommend that route!

A cookie swap is an awesome holiday tradition for several reasons.

Saves Time

If your family is at all like mine, you used to spend a LOT of time making cookies. Like, weeks upon end of flour, butter, sugar, mix it all together. Add the eggs, add the milk. Roll, make sure they are all the same size, dust with flour, roll some more, preheat to 350. Set the timer, whip the filling, thaw the dough, chill the icing.

The time it takes to make each kind of cookie is quite nearly inversely related to how delicious it is. Sure, there are some exceptions (really outstanding sugar cookies? sure) but that’s pretty much how it goes. You know that those cookies only Nana knows the full recipe for and take 18 hours in total are damn delicious.

My very scientifically accurate cookie vs time graph

So imagine you wanted to have all those tasty cookies, which on your own would take about 96 hours of work to create. But then you get to have them all, after only one day. Magic and sorcery you say?

Nay. Only the magic of teamwork.

Saves Money

In a similar way that you can use the magic of scale to save yourself time making lots of kinds of cookies in one go, you can also use the magic of economy by purchasing ingredients in bulk. You can probably find a cheaper price per pound on sugar if you know you will need 30 pounds of it versus 3.

You can agree to buy all ingredients at once and then split it all ways, or assign specific ingredients to certain people. It helps to have at least one very organized person in the group to organize the little details like this.

It is also very likely that you will save money versus buying holiday cookies at the store. Sure, if you buy generic crap off the day-old bakery shelves, you definitely will find better deals. But for a homemade, unique, made with love dozen cookies? Those things sell for easily $5-$20 per dozen, depending on the intricacy of recipe.

Bonding

Along with saving money on the actual cookies themselves, you are saving yourself some money by enjoying some frugal entertainment. Instead of going out to a movie and spending $15 on tickets plus $10 on concessions, a happy hour with $8 drinks, or dinner and maxing out your credit card, you can make new friends, and get closer to friends you already have in the comfort of someone’s home for almost free.

You can start many more traditions inside this tradition as well. Maybe make up your own words for traditional Christmas songs. Or have a theme, like a type of nut, a color, or “frosted” each year. One of the best ideas I’ve seen is to have everyone write down their recipe in a journal. Then each person gets to take home a copy, that will have all the cookie recipes each year.

Imagine a few decades from now, passing those books on to family or loved ones, and telling stories of holidays past. That time you spilled the flour all over the floor, the time your friend set off the smoke alarm because she got drunk and forgot to set the timer, or that time your cute neighbor came over to crash the party because it smelled so good.

If you think this sounds great, then now is your moment! Here is how to set up your very own cookie swap:

  1. Decide if you want everyone to bake at home, then just bring cookies and hang out, or if you will all bake together.
  2. Determine who would be interested in coming, and from there who could host the party and when.
  3. Invite a group of about three to seven people. That would be enough variety but not overwhelm most kitchens.
  4. Choose your cookie recipes. It could be a family recipe handed down for generations, or a new one you’ve always wanted to try. I wouldn’t recommend going too crazy your first year, unless you are already a pretty accomplished baker.
  5. Compile all the recipes and figure out your shopping list. Obtain all the ingredients. (And maybe a gallon or two of eggnog, wine, or whatever holiday beverage tickles your fancy)
  6. Show up! Make sure to have plenty of baking sheets, cooking spray, tin foil, wax paper, hand towels, a mixer, whether a hand mixer or standing like a KitchenAid, and plastic ware or tins for everyone to take home their bounty.

That’s all there is to it! If you are the host, be considerate of guests with little touches like holiday music, holiday scents, and having plenty of drinks and snacking foods. If you are attending, be considerate of your host and make sure you help clean up afterwards! Cookie baking does turn your kitchen into a flour-and-egg warzone.

 

Do you have any fun holiday traditions? Have you ever hosted or attended a cookie swap?

Putting It Out There: Holiday Weight Loss Plan

 

Okay let me say right off the bat, this is a scary thing to publish. I am staring at the finish line of my second decade of life, and am not feeling that great about where I’m at physically. I’ve been able to maintain approximately my same weight/shape since college, for basically 10 years. But time and a love of food catches up to you.

For the holidays, we have a wicked awesome Christmas cruise planned. This is something I’ve dreamed of for years, and I couldn’t be more excited. I love cruises SO much, they are the best bang for your vacation buck in my opinion, but that’s for another post.

The point of this is that in less than 7 weeks I will be in the warm Caribbean, on my 30th birthday, and I want to look damn good. See photo above for my plans that day.

Therefore, as a Type A person, the first thing I did was make some lists, and research. Research like I’ve never researched before. I am already a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and have had training on literally dozens of different diets. I have been interested in food and nutrition for nearly a decade, and have read exhaustively on diets, macros, calories, and more.

What follows is my Plan, of what to eat and how much to move, for the next 7 weeks, to get into tip top shape. This is a plan that I think will work for me as a relatively young, healthy woman who lives a very sedentary life and normally consumes ~1800 calories per day. This is also a fairly temporary plan of extreme restriction, which will revert back to maintenance post-vacation, and forever after I hope.

Starting weight: 156

Of course, health is about far more than a number on a scale. And don’t get me wrong, I love myself the way that I am. But I know I can do better, and I also want to see if I can follow this through to the end. I know weight is not a great measure of health at all; the main way I will really track progress is how my clothes fit and how I feel. But that is a hard thing to measure and report on.

Goal weight: 135

This will be a drastic lifestyle change, especially in the exercise arena. When I think back over my recent evenings, what usually happens is I get home from work between 5:30-6, start dinner, we eat 15-30 minutes later, and then watch TV for 30-90 minutes. Or hubs is playing games with friends while I read on my kindle. At least if it is nice outside, we usually fit in a walk before or after dinner.

By having quick, easy, already cooked meals for myself around, I won’t have to spend much time at all on food. And by sacrificing a half hour to an hour of time spent reading or watching TV, I am making an investment in myself and my health. Breakfasts will also be much quicker, so I can use morning time to complete the yoga or walk portion of the day, or do a workout video.

I am lucky to have an extremely supportive hubs who is behind me all the way no matter what I choose to do. It also helps that he is able and willing to feed himself for the next 2 months. Sure that means burritos basically every day but there are worse things he could eat.

He also will (hopefully) help keep me motivated when it gets hard, because I know it will. I’m not someone who likes eating the same thing every day or week (clearly), so this will be a struggle. I’m also a lazy bones who could literally read for 10 hours straight and not move. Introvert inertia, amiright?

Maybe this is how I should read from now on? I’d get some amazingly toned guns.

Exercise Plan

I do not have any exercise equipment in my house other than 3 pound weights and a yoga mat. I do not plan on buying any, nor do I plan to spend money on a gym membership. I’ve learned things about myself over the years, and most importantly is that those things are a waste of money. I will go once or twice, and then never again. Therefore I am focusing on body weight exercises I can do in the comfort of my home whenever I please.

Week 1-2 (Nov 3 – 16):
  • Daily – 20-30 minutes of yoga, 15-30 minute walk
  • MWF (or 3x/week) – body weight workout video or run
Week 3-4 (Nov 17 – 30):
  • Daily – 20-30 minutes of yoga, 20-30 minute walk
  • MWFSat (or 4x/week) – body weight workout video or run
Week 5-7 (Dec 1 – 22):
  • Daily – 30-45 minutes of yoga, 30-45 minute walk
  • 6 days/week – body weight workout video or run

Over time as your body acclimates to a new workout routine, it is easy to hit a plateau. Those moves that used to be a challenge are quite boring now, or that number of reps you couldn’t get past is far in the rear view mirror. This is partially exciting because, hell, when you can’t even manage 10 full push-ups, the idea that you can now do 25 without even breathing heavy is pretty magical.

However, this also usually means a weight loss plateau.

That’s the opposite of what I’m aiming for, I want at least steady if not accelerating weight loss. Therefore, to avoid a plateau, I’m going to gradually increase the duration and intensity of my workouts every other week. This means I will keep challenging my body as it gets stronger and stronger.

Food Plan

  • 3-5 meals per day, for a total of ~1000-1200 calories
  • Very limited carbohydrates
  • Daily green drink + vitamins
  • One cheat meal or snack/weekday, one per weekend
  • Only snacks allowed are green tea, raw whole fruits, raw veggies (RV) or steamed veggies (SV)
  • Unlimited salad greens or raw non-starchy veggies
Breakfast options
  • 2 hard boiled eggs + fruit
  • 1 egg scrambled + 1/2 cup SV
  • Protein smoothie
  • Tofu scramble + SV
  • 1/2 cup oats + 1/4 cup milk + fruit
  • 1/2 cup quinoa + 1/4 cup milk + fruit
  • Yogurt + fruit
Lunch/Dinner options
  • 2-3 oz chicken breast over 2 cups of greens +RV
  • 2-3 oz chicken breast + 1/2 sweet potato + SV
  • 2-3 oz shrimp over 2 cups greens + RV
  • 2-3 oz shrimp over 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 2-3 oz tofu over 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 2-3 oz tofu in miso soup with cabbage/onion
  • 1/2 cup beans + 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 1/2 cup beans + 1/2 sweet potato +  SV
  • 2-3 oz salmon over 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 2-3 oz salmon breast over 2 cups of greens +RV
  • 2-3 oz salmon in lettuce cups + RV
  • 1 cup vegan chili or curry + 1/4 c rice/quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetable soup

This plan is mostly just an even leaner & cleaner version of how I eat day to day. The biggest changes are a big decrease in the amount of carbs I plan to eat, and I will be using actual measuring cups and a food scale to reign in portion sizes.

We are terrible at estimating portion sizes and calorie counts are (usually inaccurate) averages, so I’m taking out the guesswork. This plan will hopefully re-set my mind so that when this is over and it is back to maintenance, I’m better at estimating amounts again.

There will be significant challenges, i.e. holiday temptations. I’m sure especially at work, I will be exposed to cookies, treats, and other items not in the plan on a regular basis. Plus I have guests visiting soon, a house party in a week, and America’s biggest reason to gorge all year (Thanksgiving) is just around the corner.

My plan for dealing with temptations/falling off the wagon?
  • Remind myself of why I’m doing this
  • Ask which I’d regret more tomorrow: eating it, or not
  • Having healthy snacks/meals available at all times
  • Asking hubs & close friends for help when needed
  • Keeping lots of water around at all times to stay hydrated
  • Self-love & forgiveness; I want progress, not perfection
  • If I don’t follow the plan for a day, forgive and try again

They say the best way to follow through on goals is to have accountability, and a system. My wonderful hubs is part of the accountability plan, this article is another. Putting all this out there in the interwebs is terrifying, but I want to make this real.

So, readers, feel free to cheer me on or give helpful advice, and connect with me on Twitter. Here’s to health & sticking with it!

 

For information and inspiration, check out the articles below. A big shout out to Mrs. Frugal Asian Finance, whose articles gave me the inspiration and kick in the pants to put together a real actual plan instead of just complaining about how my pants felt tighter.

How I Lost 36 Lbs With A Cheaper Diet

Forget calorie counting: Try this calorie control guide for men and women

https://www.paleonick.com/articles/7-Healthy-Ways-To-Lose-Fat

On Losing Weight: Comparing Physical Fitness And Financial Fitness

https://lifehacker.com/5950484/how-to-motivate-yourself-into-an-exercise-routine-youll-actually-stick-to

How to Look and Feel Like The Vigilante Without a Hefty Price Tag

Evoolution of Fat

How to Achieve Your Goals Easily

https://www.livestrong.com/article/48248-good-diet-plan-lose-lbs/

5 Similarities Between Weight Loss & Debt Payoff

 

 

 

Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a paid health professional; none of this constitutes medical advice. This plan was created by myself, for myself only. Please do not try any drastic dietary or exercise changes prior to consulting a physician, and do not assume any other person’s plan will give you the same or any results at all.

Also, some links are Amazon Associate links, which if you click on them and then purchase the item, it generates a small commission for the blog’s upkeep at no cost to you.

Weekly Eating – 9/25

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

I spent part of the weekend making ahead breakfasts and lunches by making a pitcher full of smoothie and putting it in mason jars, as well as mason jar salads. That way all I had to do was grab a jar from the fridge every day and lunch was ready to go! It is a great way to save money and time (buy in bulk, make 5 days lunch at once) and to get my daily greens & veggies.

My aunt and grandmother were also in town all weekend and through Wednesday, so we got to hang out a lot. We went to an Oktoberfest in downtown Durham, played games at the Atomic Fern, sampled all the things at the 10th Annual Pepper Festival, and explored Lafayette Village in Raleigh. It’s always fun spending time with family, but even moreso when ALL your family lives 1000 miles away, and you only get to see them a few times a year. 🙂

Side note, holy what it’s October?! Ok, Bye 2017…

Monday:

Breakfast – Toast with peanut butter. Not gonna lie, a cold smoothie just didn’t sound good, and whole grain toast with peanut butter is one of my top easy go-to breakfasts.

Lunch – Mason jar salad. Super delicious, healthy, and surprisingly filling. The trick is to put the ‘heartier’ things on the bottom, like cut carrots, broccoli, and olives, and then things like peppers/ cheese/ beets/ red cabbage and delicate greens on top. Come lunch time, just dump it all into a bowl!

Dinner – We were supposed to go to Myrtle Beach today, but my grandmother wasn’t feeling up to the long drive. So instead we took dinner to them! Hubs made some chicken thighs while I was driving home, then I fried up some chopped cauliflower and baked some biscuits. Paired with a simple salad, it was a perfect, relaxed dinner.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – oatmeal from my desk oatmeal jar, another easy breakfast go-to that’s healthy and frugal

Lunch –  I took a half day in lieu of Monday, and we went to CowFish in Raleigh! They were both amazed at the wacky decor, and the crazy fusion menu. This time I got The Big Squeal. With a bison patty, BBQ pulled pork, fried onion rings, bacon slaw, and chipotle aioli, this massive beast was a big, delicious mess!

The burger was basically bigger than my head, and those sweet potato fries are SO GOOD. My aunt got the Hamandegger, which features a burger layered with a fried egg, cheese, and sliced ham. It looked quite delicious, and there wasn’t much talking once the burgers showed up, so I’m thinking it was good! And Gram got the plain baby burger with Swiss & tomato. We had to pay extra for the cheese, by which she was outraged. It was kinda funny.

Dinner – We had a good time shopping all afternoon in Raleigh, and were too tuckered out to deal with going out again. Plus cooking at home is fun for me, and way cheaper! We stopped at a Kroger to get all the ingredients for our family’s famous Fettuccini with shrimp, broccoli & carrots.

Snack – Oh, and while we were out we found a place called Duck Donuts… and holy crap are they good! It might be worth driving the 30 minutes to get these made-fresh-when-you-order, totally customizable doughnuts! The maple bacon was AHmaZING.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smoothie in a jar

Lunch – salad in a jar

Dinner – This was their last night in town, so we went big for seafood at Full Moon Oyster Bar. This was a fun spot, with open seating, you just walk up to the bar and pick a spot. They have dedicated “shuckers” to get your fresh oysters to you and take your order. We had a bunch of apps and dishes, plus Wednesday is half off wine bottles! The seafood pasta was oh so tasty.

Snack – peanut butter cookie

Thursday:

Breakfast – raisin oatmeal at my desk

Lunch – mason jar salad

Dinner – I had a great time making pepperoni rolls 3 ways! As rolls, as biscuits, and as sandwiches. I got most of the ingredients on sale, which made total ingredients cost about $8 for 2 rolls, 16 biscuits, and 10 sandwiches. With even more pepperoni leftover to freeze.

I made 4 big batches, so that we can take some extra with us this weekend, and freeze a few for later too. They make great snacks, and keep hubs full when its time for “second dinner”.

Snack – 2 tbsp Ranch & raw veggies

Friday:

Breakfast – Mango Peach Smoothie. We finished all the pre-made smoothie jars, so I just whipped this up in the morning with canned peaches and frozen mango and split it with hubs. It was quite delish!

Lunch – Mason jar salad. I was very pleased with how well these held up all week long. I was a little concerned that the salad greens would get wet and mushy, but they were still crisp by Friday after making the jars on Sunday. This is a weekly trend I plan to continue. The Green Goddess was probably my favorite dressing this week too.

Dinner – Leftovers buffet! We are headed out of town this weekend, so we need to finish up anything that won’t last until Monday.

The Weekend

This weekend we are heading to a friends’ cabin in the mountains! It will be a mix of people we know and people we don’t, with a dozen of us and five dogs in the mix. There will be mostly hiking and game playing, we are taking turns making meals by couple, and there will likely be no or spotty cell phone reception. All in all it should be a super fun, disconnect-from-the-world, very frugal weekend of making new friends and getting closer with friends we already have! I’m very much looking forward to it.

Total: $97

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

We spent a little more than usual this week due to family being in town and eating out more than normal, plus extra groceries to cook for 4 a few times. Totally worth it though, to spend time with family! Plus they paid for eating out far more often than we did, so it was an overall win for sure!

Lessons Learned

Make-ahead smoothies and salads are AMAZING! This is a super quick prep that saves me SO MUCH TIME in the mornings. I get together the jars and ingredients, toss them in layers, using about 15 minutes. Then all I do is grab a to-go jar in the morning and toss it in my work bag. Maybe I can actually get around to doing yoga in the mornings now with all this free time?!? (HaHa)

Also, eating out a lot makes me feel like blah… I don’t regret it, the time spent with family is totally worth it. But after so many years of cooking for myself at home, I can really feel the difference. First of all, the portions are insanely huge compared to what I eat at home, which is sort of a perk because I almost always have leftovers. But then that messes up the meal plan a little bit, by having ‘extra’ meals around.

And then the restaurant food is saltier, fattier, and generally lacking in vegetables compared to what I would cook. This makes me not feel my best for days afterwards. Good thing weeks like that are only occasional treats. It blows my mind that SO MANY Americans live like that, on a daily basis. I couldn’t do it.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Yogurt Dipped Blueberries

 

Are you ready for the 4th of July?!?

Weird how it’s on a Tuesday this year, but Monday isn’t a holiday… maybe if we all sign a petition, the government will declare a 5 day weekend?

Hey… a girl can dream.

Speaking of dream, these little treats are a dream come true! They are tiny (a favorite for kids), chilly (great on a hot summer day), and healthy (a win for everyone!). They take some prep time, just because you need to freeze the berries ahead. But you can also buy frozen blueberries, and have these babies ready to go way faster! Try different yogurt flavors, or different berries.

yogurt berries and honey

Ingredients:

berries in yogurt

Step 1: Freeze your berries a few hours to overnight. This is so the yogurt sticks better and freezes faster. I’m not sure if this would work with fresh berries, I haven’t tried it. Or just use frozen berries.

20170213_183649

Step 2: In a bowl, mix the yogurt and honey. Or use an already flavored and sweetened yogurt. Mix the berries around so they are coated on all sides, then use a fork to put them on a plate lined with wax paper. Freeze for at least 2 hours.

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After they are frozen, you can put them in a bag or container. Then you can pull them out for any party, picnic, get-together, or afternoon snack attack. You can definitely feel at ease feeding these to little ones, and not at all guilty sneaking a few yourself. Go ahead and have 2 handfuls, these are super healthy for you!

 

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Jalapeno Margaritas

 

Happy Memorial Day weekend!

A sincere thank you to all our members of the armed forces, for doing what they do in order for us to do our things too.

And Memorial Day weekend also means, it is officially summer!

School is out, and so is the sun. (Maybe…we have had some ridiculous amount of thunderstorms here in NC lately! Oh well, that’s why everything here is so green and lush.)

Time to plan vacations to the beach, to the park, to the mountains, and everywhere in between. Time for picnics and cookouts and potlucks and parties.

Time for cocktails!

We all know I love margaritas. This here recipe is taking it to the next level. It is the classic combo of tangy lime, salt, sugar, and liquor, now with the delicious slow burn of jalapeno peppers.

I was introduced to these by my sister in law (I can’t believe it’s been just barely a year, and it’s still weird to use phrases like that!) and have had sporadic cravings for them ever since. I’ll be having a garden party in a few weeks, this recipe might have to make an appearance.

jalapeno margarita ingredients

This recipe makes enough for a large pitcher, about 6 glasses. Feel free to scale up or down as needed, just keep the ratio of tequila to mixer about 1:2, and you can also experiment with more or less jalapeno, depending on how much of a bite you like!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups tequila
  • 3 cups margarita mix
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • Either 4-5 fresh jalapenos sliced, or 1/2 cup pickled jalapenos

Step 1: Mix all ingredients in a large pitcher full of ice and refrigerate for an hour to overnight. Dip a glass in lime juice, and then salt. Add ice, add margarita, sip… and smile. Then cough, and maybe turn red, and maybe need some ice water to wash it down. Just kidding, you will be fine! And then go back for more.

 

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Last-minute Valentine’s Day meal ideas

 

 

So, you want to have a romantic dinner but don’t want to shell out $20 and up? Me too!

With Valentine’s Day only 2 days away, you may be thinking about having a special meal with a special someone. It doesn’t matter if you’re cooking for yourself, some of your girlfriends or bros, your significant other, your parents, your dog, whatever, cooking a meal is always an act of love. An act of survival too, sure, but also you’re taking the trouble to turn raw ingredients into something edible.

Even if it’s a box of easy mac, or as fancy as a seven course meal, the person enjoying the finished product knows a little dash of love went into it.

And while a romantic dinner out on the town is nice every now and then, there are several advantages to cooking at home. One, you get to control the ingredients that go into your food. Restaurants use all kinds of ingredients you might not want to know about: stabilizers, emulsifiers, preservatives, MSG, salt and sugar by the tablespoon. At home, you know what is going into your food, and thus into your body.

Two, you can control portion sizes. There is a ton of research out there, not to mention if you’ve been around 2-3 decades or more you can see it for yourself, pointing fingers at ballooning portion sizes as a contributor to the obesity epidemic. When you eat out, you want to “get your money’s worth”, and restaurants know that giving you more food but with cheaper, less healthy ingredients, is good for their bottom lines. Terrible for your bottom, however, which will expand along with the size of the plate.

And finally, it is far cheaper per meal to cook at home. If you go out to a moderately priced chain, you are hard-pressed to find a full meal for less than $15 for dinner. Then add in tip, time, and gas money to get there. If you go out to a nicer restaurant or a place with a prixe-fixe menu, you are probably looking more into the $50 per person range. Restaurants know people want a special experience for Valentine’s Day, and take advantage by making fancy looking and sounding menus and tripling the prices.

Why not have just as special a meal, in a quiet place where you can actually hear each other talk, with no rush because the place wants to turn over your table? That’s right, I’m talking about your home!

Oh, and yes, you do have to do your dishes unlike at a restaurant. But you know what? That can be part of the experience if you know your dining partner well. Make it into an assembly line as you wash and dry together, laughing and maybe splashing each other throughout. Or tag-team dishwasher loading, then curl up on the couch with a good movie while it runs. You can make even chores fun if you try!

 

And now for the potential menu!

Below are a wide range of recipes, each will take you less than an hour, and I specialize in recipes that are affordable and simple. You won’t find more than 10 ingredients, and most of them you likely already have on hand.

Choose a few things that you know how to make, or know you will enjoy eating, and make some magic happen.

 

Appetizers – having multiple courses helps spread the meal out, giving you time to talk to your dining partner and bond. Appetizers don’t have to be complicated, give one of these a try.

Main course – even if you think you can’t cook, you should give it a try! Start with something very simple, and give it a test run today. Then you may find some ways to tweak it or make it better or easier. Or just jump in with both feet, what’s the worst that can happen, you order a pizza later?

Dessert – everyone loves dessert! You could even make your entire meal just a dessert buffet! But I’d recommend choosing just one thing you feel you can make, then sprinkle in an extra cup or two of love, and enjoy it.

Drinks – for adults and under-agers alike, a special drink makes a memorable addition to a special meal. You don’t have to get crazy with dozens of ingredients and multiple steps. Even something as simple as adding thinly sliced citrus to a glass of water can elevate the everyday to the special day.

 

To a Healthy New Year!

 

 

Hello readers!  As we begin a brand-new year, 2017, we tend to look back on the previous year to learn from it.  We make lists of “bests” and “worsts”, and reflect on all we have or have not done.  While many people feel that 2016 was a terrible year, and are worried about what 2017 will bring, there is so much to be thankful for instead.

2016 was the year in which I got married to the world’s best man and my best friend during a wonderful family and love filled week in the Smoky Mountains, traveled to Europe for the first time for an amazing once in a lifetime Mediterranean cruise, and moved across the country to my dream location and bought our very first home together! What a year!

Think back on all the memories with your friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, random strangers. Cherish all the growth you have done as a person, and accomplishments big and small. And whether you make resolutions or not, there is much to learn about how we can continue to improve, individually and as a nation.

Be curious, be kind, to others and yourself. Do small acts of kindness, without expecting recognition or reward. Make the world a better place than when you found it, and the universe will pay it back to you in happiness.

Oh, and check out the Top 10 Posts of 2016!

10. Simple sauteed power greens — this is one of my favorite simple side dishes that packs a healthy punch. I make this all the time with whatever greens I have, currently I’m obsessed with collard greens (does it have to do with moving to the south? maybe) and jalapenos.

9. Salsa Chicken Soup – a total classic, this soup is warming and filling, and when you use all canned ingredients plus a slow cooker it is a total breeze! People will think you spent hours simmering this, when in reality it takes less than 10 minutes to whip up. MMMmmm.

8. Twice the wine for half the calories! — A sneaky trick for making your vino last longer, and letting you indulge more without the guilt. Yes please!

7. Homemade energy drink mix – while excess caffeine is not something I endorse, sometimes you just need a little kick in the pants and aren’t in the mood for coffee. Customizable to whatever flavor you prefer.

6. Frugal Last-Minute Gift Ideas — I’ve a suspicion that Christmas time always nudges this post up just enough to make the top 10! But there are also great ideas on there for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Birthdays too.

5. What are Vitamins? – Good knowledge to have in hand, I tried to clarify some common questions.

4. Ginger-Peach Slow Cooker Chicken — Slow cooker recipes are always popular, for good reason! Slow cookers are amazing, and so is this sweet, tender chicken recipe.

3. Breastfeeding: All about it – I’m honestly a bit surprised this one made the top 3, but sure. I’m glad people are at least interested in learning more! Breastfeeding is a great step for a healthy, happy baby.

2. Grapefruitcello — Popular from the start, making your own infused alcohols is a fun hobby to take up. It is way easier than you may think, don’t be scared! Try any flavor infusion you want and see what happens.

1. One-Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake – This recipe definitely deserves its #1 status! It is supremely simple, surprisingly healthy, and a total crowd pleaser. I may make this again one night this week…

 

And there you have it, ten highlights of the blog from 2016. If you have another post that was your favorite, or one you would like to see in 2017, please post here or email me anytime! Here’s to a happy healthy epicurious New Year!

 

How do you pick a wedding date?

 

After a while of being engaged, and a hundred people asking “SO when’s the big day?!?” which you may or may not have artfully dodged answering, you may start to wonder “Is something wrong with me?  Why can’t I just pick a damn day?!”

Don’t worry.  It’s okay.

And then after maybe even a little longer, you will think, “for real though, it’s time to pick. How do I pick??”  Here’s my best advice.  You know that scene from Miss Congeniality?

Stan Fields: Miss Rhode Island, please describe your idea of a perfect date.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-rxDIRxugTd8/UyBr4s67bbI/AAAAAAAADb0/SseynTXsyUo/s1600/congeniality+2.gif

While it’s worth a chuckle, this is kind of the thing you are going for.

Start off thinking about what time of year you enjoy most. Do you love the heat and bright colors of summer? Are you a fan of pastels and spring rain? Do you love the spicy smells of autumn, or are you a hibernator who dreams of the first snowfall and lives for the magical season of Christmas?

Fall Leaves From Colorado

For myself, no month or day felt right just off the bat.  But I have a deep connection to and love of spring.  Everything from the warm rains, to the days getting longer, to the sunshine, to the buds coming out on the trees the flowers pushing up from the dirt the animals coming out of hibernation the greening that just bursts forth one day like magic… you get the idea. I’m in love with birth and renewal and life and living things. Mostly plants.

So, “sometime in the spring” was my starting point.

First Spring Daffodils

From there, take into account any holidays happening that time of year.  Maybe the idea of sharing your big day with Christmas seems magical, or you like the idea of reusing red and silver decor. Maybe you want a big summer bash but don’t want it ruined by random all-day-long fireworks, so avoid July 4th weekend. Whatever the case, take into account whatever celebrations your country, faith, state, town, or family enjoys.

Consider options other than the stereotypical “Saturday afternoon” (even though that is exactly what I did, which I will explain later) if you want to pinch some pennies.  Vendors know that Saturdays in June are the most in-demand.  Demand and supply are a vicious spiral, so expect to pay more for just about everything if you plan for say Saturday at 4 pm on June 12th than on a random Wednesday in November at noon.

You could have an earlier wedding, which leads to a brunch rather than heavy dinner. This should save you some cash on both the food (breakfast foods are cheap yo!) and the booze (I’m sure we all have a few friends & relatives who have no qualms with allllllll the Bloody Mary’s, but most people will have more restraint in the AM).  Also consider a later wedding post-dinner, and just have drinks and dancing afterwards with cake and cookies.

Cookie Table

Okay, so now you should have a relatively small list of potential dates.  Different websites recommend different amounts of time to give yourself, from 6 months to 2 years. It greatly depends upon you and your situation.  Are you pressed for time, such as with a move or deployment or death in the family expected or birth on the way? You will have a shorter timeline. Are you a super anal OCD-planner with a list of lists you need to make and the perfect wedding day already outlined on Pinterest?  Maybe you want to take some more time to go through all your options.

I personally found that 11 months was plenty enough time for me. I had the date and place nailed down within a month or so, and the rest of the details didn’t concern me too much. I could have had a wedding planned within 3 months that I would be happy with, so I had several months in between the initial 2-month flurry and the final month-of rush where I just chilled and enjoyed life. You may be a more anxious person and need more than a year to be sure all the Ts are crossed and Is dotted. That’s fine too, you do you.

Now what?  Well, just as with saying “yes” and going through with a wedding, at some point, you just take the plunge and have faith it will all work out.

Pick a date from your list or calendar that meets your criteria, and go with it. Once chosen and told to people and vendors, it gets more and more difficult to change your mind, just remember that. The only other decision that really matters besides the when is the where. But we will talk about that next week…

 

So how about you guys? Do you have a date that mattered to you? How did you choose the “right time”?

How to Deflect Wedding Questions

 

Alright, so you just got engaged...

And you’re already exhausted by a deluge of questions.  Why does it seem like every person on the planet needs to know RIGHT NOW what kind of flowers you’ll have, and the flavor of the cake, and which song will be playing at exactly 2:30 on the day of (which you have chosen already right?!?)

If just reading that paragraph made your heart rate double, you’re in a safe place, I understand you.  The feelz bro.

The good news is, there are no rules.

Let me say that again so it sinks in: There Are No Rules.

That’s my life motto, but also the truth.  Society, friends, and family all have ideas about what a wedding “should” be or is “supposed” to include.  But that’s a load of horse pucky (as my grandma would say). The only things a wedding “has to have” is two people in love and ready to be together forever.

Do you have that?  Then everything else is icing on the (figurative, or literal) cake.  Don’t have that?  Then all the Kardashian flower walls and billion dollar backdrops in the world won’t make you happy.

Calgary-wedding-photography-51

So, you’re at a family gathering, holiday, after work happy hour, or another wedding, and the inevitable questions of your own situation arise.  Here’s a few suggestions on how to (politely) tell people to mind their own d**n business.

  • Have a prepared line: especially if you talk with your betrothed before hand, you can present a united front. Plan a phrase or two that can answer just about any question. Things such as:  “we’re taking things slow”, “We are just enjoying being engaged right now”, “we’re considering all our options before making any decisions”, or “we will let people know once we decide on anything” all work well.
  • Answer the questions with a question: when Aunt Rose says “So have you picked a date yet?” you respond with “no, but do you have any suggestions for the best season for a wedding?” or “No, when was yours?” This redirects the spotlight to the question asker and may make them realize their inquiries aren’t welcome. But be cautious, as some people will take this as an opening to blab on forever about their own weddings, so use with caution.
  • Laugh it off: depending on the audience, you can make whatever the question into a joke. When a coworker asks when the date is, you could try something like “Hopefully before I start showing!” or “as soon as we win the lottery”. Delivered in the right tone and with a smile, this lets them know that you aren’t ready to discuss details and to calm it down without being openly rude.
  • Change the subject: You can either come prepared with a few topics to discuss, or go off-the-cuff as the situation arises. Most people love talking about themselves, so if they ask you something you don’t want to answer you can always redirect back to them. “Gee Tom, I hadn’t thought about what to do for the bachelor party yet, what did you do for yours?” or “I know you want grand-kids mom, but I’m not ready to live up to your reputation as a mom yet! Remember that time you…” Getting people talking about themselves or some topic they are interested in frees you from being the center of attention.
  • Be vague but pleasant: When someone inevitably brings up their roommate who is an awesome photographer, or their cousin who is an aspiring florist, you DO NOT want to immediately commit. Things can get awkward if you agree, and it turns out you hate their work, or don’t get along, or find a better deal elsewhere. Try something like: “Email/text me the info and I’ll take a look”, “It sounds lovely, let’s talk later”, or “I’m glad <insert person who did it> enjoyed that, but we are still looking around”.
  • Be cautious and use the sandwich rule: For those who don’t know, the “sandwich rule” is the best way to deliver a criticism, you sandwich it in between two compliments, like so: “compliment, criticism, compliment”. Try something like: “We are so happy you’re interested in being involved in our wedding planning Nana, but we don’t really like orange and purple together. Can you help us out with baking cookies for our reception table though, you are such a great chef!”

5953002_two-cents-whats-the-wedding-invitation_cbe2c3dc_m

Everyone has opinions and questions, but as the classic song “Everybody’s Free” says: “Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth”.

Oh, and if anyone asks about how much the ring cost? Totally inappropriate, and you can brush it off with something like: “More than ten dollars, but less than a million”. You wouldn’t ask how much someone made last year, or how much is in their 401K right? Just don’t do that.

 

 

How about you, have you gotten any totally inappropriate questions? How do you handle it?

So You Just Got Engaged… Now What?

 

Hey readers, in case you didn’t know, I just got married yesterday!  Yup, that’s right, I’m officially a M-R-S and off the market!  Sorry frugal epicurious dudes.  I’m in Tennessee right now, likely sleeping off a few too many celebratory glasses of wine.

But let’s start at the beginning…

I’ll tell you a story, your typical love story of guy-meets-girl and they become friends. Close friends. Like hang out every day, eat lunch together, celebrate good things, shoulder to cry on, soulmates without realizing it yet friends. Everyone around them knows before they do, that they should be together. And then finally one day, they realize it. You may relate to this.

First date. (Laser tag). First kiss. Long talks. Long walks. Dinner, lunch, breakfast. First road trip. Facebook official (gasp!). First vacation together. Meet the parents. Lots more dates and more trips and moving in together. Move together. Move again. And again. Get some dogs. And move yet again, except this time more than 1200 miles away.

First date: Laser tag
Oh yes, our first date really was laser tag.

Oh wait, that last part is probably just us, because we are crazy people.

Whatever your story is, whether you are high school sweethearts, aging young-at-heart geriatrics, divorcees, blind dates, met online, star crossed lovers, friends who decided to give love a shot, you now find yourself at that point of life of which romance movies, books, and songs are written: you are engaged.

Betrothed. Afianced.

Meaning… you two are going to be married!

The Lion King, Engaged

So your lover has finally “popped the question” and you may or may not have a shiny object on a certain finger that rhymes with “thing”. Which, by the way, if you don’t have a ring because of finances or other reasons, that is totally fine! Don’t buy into society’s hype that it isn’t real or official if there aren’t several hundred dollars adorning your left hand. You two promising your love and planning to set a date to make it official is all that truly matters.

Depending on how public or private your engagement was, you now have a few options. Mostly, you will follow these steps:

Step 1: Decide who you want to know, and in what order

Step 2: Tell those people yourself, in person or on the phone

Step 3: Be prepared… for allllll the questions (oh and showing off that bling, if you have it!)

Step 4: Relax and Enjoy!

Budget Epicurean's engagement ring
Don’t worry, I know exactly how lucky I am. (EXTREMELY). Yes, it’s a family heirloom.

You need to decide how to spread your own news or social media will do it for you.  Take control and tell those who matter the most first (probably mom & dad unless you want it to be held against you for all of time that they heard it from their cousin’s neighbor). Go see them in person, everyone loves a surprise visit with good news, or call them and tell them.  You will probably hear mixed reviews depending on the people’s opinions of this other person, such as “About time!” or “Why did you say yes??” but almost always “Congratulations!” and “So when’s the date?!?”.

Once you have each notified the family and friends most important to you, then you can turn to social media to notify the more peripheral circles of people you know and the world at large. It is best to take several photos of the jewels involved and the two of you and decide together what ones you want to use. Ladies: don’t worry about going out for a manicure, but make sure your nails are at least clean looking. No polish at all looks just fine. Cracked nails with bloody cuticles and dirt underneath, not so fine.

Once you have notified everyone, just sit back and enjoy this time! Being engaged is a thrilling, exciting phase in life. People will try to push you into thinking ahead and immediately getting to the planning, but stand strong if that isn’t something you want right now. I strongly recommend taking at least a few days or weeks to just be together. You will have plenty of time later to plan and think and stress out. Just enjoy each other and this first/next step you are taking on the road of life together.

 

How about you? Are you engaged? Did you take your time or rush right into planning? Tell me all about it below!