Sunday, December 26, 2010

Planning for Christmas for Next Year

So, a few days ago I touched on how I'm already brainstorming for next year. I realized this could sound like I'm never enjoying the moment, always worrying about the future. Really I enjoy planning a whole lot and so that's part of how I enjoy the present. I do need to remind myself to enjoy the now, however, which is why tomorrow's post (Christmas Eve) will be about this year and the fun things we did and the things I wish we would have done differently, etc.

But for now, I love to plan!

Next year, I would like to make more gifts by hand. To do this, I need to get organized now so that throughout the year I can be working on the presents instead of realizing come December 15th that I haven't gotten or made gifts for anyone. That panic that settles in the pit of my stomach is just rotten. And it makes me cranky.

So currently I'm working on my various lists. I have a list of who I would like to have a gift for, a list of who I need to have a gift for, a list of possible gift ideas, and then approximate cost per project. Like I said, I love to plan. I'm trying to decide how many gifts I should get people. I'm also trying to decide if I should do little "gift basket" type things with a little stash of gifts for each person or not. I don't want to go overboard and fall flat on my arse and feel terrible for not getting everything done, but I also want to be able to make something for everyone.

Some of the ideas I know I will do. Some of them are more expensive, but I have ideas on how to make them cheaper. Some of them are probably just not going to happen. For example, I thought it sounded really cool to brew my own beer and give it away as a present, but the startup cost for that is in excess of $100. Especially since I wouldn't be getting the bottles back, that is a huge money sink. If I could find the things I need on discount I might be able to, but it's just not looking too likely.

I would like to make one gift each month. I think that's reasonable. We'll see if I still think that when school starts back up, haha, but for now it sounds good. My thinking if I do one per month, is that each month's gift would have to fit within that month's allotment towards Christmas stuff, so I'm not sure how that would work. Since some presents are just more expensive than others. Hmm, lots to figure out with this.

So for now, I plot and wait.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas with friends and family. We celebrated Christmas with my family last night, had our own small Christmas this morning, and will be traveling tomorrow to see my Hubby's parents. Then on New Year's we are going to my Hubby's grandparents for Christmas.

2 down, 2 to go!

I got some fun stuff so far, including a Pandora subscription from my husband (yay!), but by far my favorite thing is giving. I had so much fun last night passing out gifts to everyone and taking a bzillion photos and making people pose with their gifts. And they actually all humored me, haha.

My dad loved the anise cookies I made him. Thanks, Joy of Cooking for another reliable recipe. And thanks, internet, for the awesome advice to add cinnamon to them. I made some with cinnamon and some without--and by far the ones with cinnamon were so much better.

The other fun thing we got to do last night was I brought stuff to make some of the eggnog I talked about in a previous post. It was amazing. Everyone loved it. Mom said having me around was like having Martha Stewart around... Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, heh... That didn't stop them from drinking it all up, though. And surprisingly, no one freaked about the fact that it was chock full of raw eggs. I thought for sure my Mom would have flipped.

So, what's your favorite thing about Christmas? Did you get any fun presents this year?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

More Christmas Budgeting

I was going to post about groceries... And then I thought, "That's boring! I'll do it tomorrow."

So then I decided to post about something Christmas-y. I just haven't figured out what yet.

I will post about our Christmas tree and how we paid for it instead. First, I love Christmas trees, especially real ones. And I love glass ornaments. And shiny things. And instead of an angel, I always have grown up with a tacky glittery star lit up with multi-color mini lights, so that is what I wanted when I first moved into my apartment 3 years ago. But as usual, money was tight. So for my very first Christmas in my apartment, I had no tree.

Since my husband (then, husband-to-be) is allergic to pine (tragic!), I knew we would be getting a plastic tree (sad). But really, it doesn't look that bad. I do miss the pine smell though. And the real green of real trees. Anyway, after Christmas we went to Walmart and the Dollar Store and loaded up on Christmas tree stuff. I got my beloved tacky star for $3. I got my tree for $20 or $30. I got lights on sale. I bought real, glass ornaments at the Dollar Store for 2 for $1, and some of the fancier ones were 1 for $1. I also bought some cheapo plastic ornaments which I don't like as much but it's nice for variety.

Overall I think I've spent about $50-$60 on my Christmas tree and it's pretty well decked out. Just yesterday I spent another $1 at the Dollar Store for another beautiful glass ornament I found (score!). I will add it to our tree probably on Christmas day. I think that it might become a tradition each year to buy another pretty ornament, even if it's just a $1 ornament. It's a frugal, fun activity we could do each year to add to our decorations, without breaking the bank. Even if we splurged and bought a Hallmark ornament (ack! those things are like $20 sometimes), it still wouldn't break the bank.

My point in all of this blathering, my point besides just telling you more about me, is that it's very possible to decorate for Christmas on a budget. We don't decorate the entire apartment. Just the tree. Honestly there isn't room for much more besides the tree! I could have saved even more had I searched for a tree second-hand, but I was still fairly new to the whole saving money thing while buying for an apartment (I bought pretty much everything new).

The biggest thing for decorating for Christmas is to buy right after Christmas. Stores, especially stores like Hobby Lobby and other craft-y stores, will be looking to unload all their Christmas merchandise. I might look for a wreath for our door after Christmas this year. I've been wanting one for a while. I've also been wanting some higher quality tinsel (Edit: when I say tinsel I mean garland, but I've always called it tinsel so that's what I still call it). Mine is very 2-D and not very fluffy. And of course, this works for any holiday and not just Christmas.

Finally, my favorite part about buying decorations just after a given holiday is that next year when you go to get them out again, they are brand new and it's like getting presents early!

What about you? How do you save money when decorating for the holidays?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Yay for Bread

Hmm, the promised bread update "tomorrow" from several days ago never made it from my brain to my fingers, so I'm going to d that now while I watch the beautiful snow fall outside my window and I will cleverly schedule this for tomorrow morning so that I will not have four posts within a two hour period followed by no posts for days, haha.

My sourdough bread turned out good. Not quite as dense as last time which was good, but still really dense. Also not quite as sour, but I figure my starter is still really young so it will fluctuate as it matures.

Also, I made sourdough cinnamon rolls from the recipe in Sunset >something< Bread book. If you search for "Sunset Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls" you'll find it no problem online. They were amazing. Again, whole wheat, I'm trying to reduce white flour except for treats. Both hubby and I liked the cinnamon rolls. I do feel bad about the sugar in them, but it's not that much, and I didn't put icing on them (although it would have been better with it). I'm thinking they would be really good with cream cheese which would provide a little sweetness / moisture without tons of sugar. When I made this recipe it made 11 rolls, though, not nine like it said, so I couldn't use the square pan like the recipe said to. I think I will post a more detailed recipe about the cinnamon rolls later on, for now, just know that they were very tasty.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Budgeting for Christmas

Today I wanted to share with you all how hubby and I decided to pay for Christmas this year. After last Christmas causing our coffers to dwindle and our pockets to empty, we decided that we needed a plan so that we wouldn't be stressed about money come Christmas. Goodness knows there's enough other things to be stressed about!

So we decided roughly how much we wanted to spend on Christmas this year and started saving a little bit every month. We decided we wanted around $300 for Christmas gifts for both of our families. His family is fairly easy because they do a gift exchange, but my family is more chaotic and generally people try to get something for each person. Once we decided how much we wanted, we decided to set up a savings account and set direct deposit at the first of every month for $25.

The one small glitch we had was that we didn't actually set up the account until... August (I know, right. Terrible). We hadn't spent any of the money, but we hadn't specifically separated it from our checking account either. Thankfully neither of us are wild spenders so it was pretty easy to leave that money alone. We both knew what it was for.

We have just about all our gifts purchased and we have about $55 left in our budget. So it looks like we are on target! And it's been soo nice not having to worry about where this money is coming from or if we're accidentally borrowing money from some other needed category. We already have wrapping paper and tape so I think we are ready for Christmas! And not a moment too soon. :o

I think next year I'm going to set a goal to have Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving. This means I'll probably up our auto-deposit a little bit so that I have the money on hand earlier. Shopping around the holidays is just so stressful! I like it when I have space to think to myself in the aisle about whether I want the red or the blue one without 15 people crowding past me. Sheesh.

What about you? How do you budget for Christmas? What do you think about taking a portion of tax return money and setting it aside in a savings account for Christmas / holidays / birthdays?

Homemade Eggnog: This Will Change Your Life

Edit: I'm also tagging this as a "Debunk the Junk" post (which I haven't done one in forever) because I realized how much crap is in store-bought eggnog. Check out the higlights from the ingredients sometime (this is for Farmland Eggnog, others I'm sure are different): HFCS, corn starch, dried milk products, artificial flavors, annatto (to color it yellow)... I don't have anything wrong with drinking store-bought, but it's nice to know I can avoid some of the stuff I'm trying to avoid by making my own.

I've been wanting to make my own eggnog for ages. Ever since I learned you could make your own, I've wanted to. So yesterday at the grocery I made it a point to buy cream, also it was conveniently on sale (score!).

Tonight I found a recipe here and it was fantastic. It used raw eggs though, so be sure to use good quality eggs. If you're uncertain about the quality of your eggs, there are many comments to the instructions about how to "pasteurize" the eggs within their shells, still leaving a liquid egg (I think it's magic, personally), but some of the comments said it also damages some of the flavor / texture. I don't know, I used raw eggs and it worked fine for us.

The other thing I loved about this recipe is that it conveniently lists the ingredients for a big batch and a "single-serve" batch. hubby and I doubled the single batch and it was almost more than we could drink. It would have been enough for 3 people.

As far as homemade compared to store-bought, here are my thoughts:
It took less maybe ten minutes. It's actually faster to make than to go to the store and buy it.
It has a much richer and fluffier texture. You are essentially turning the egg whites into meringue and then folding it back in and it makes for a superb texture. It is so luxurious in the mouth.
It tastes pretty much the same. Granted, it's been a few weeks since I've had store-bought, but I feel like it's a creamy, rich, sweet, nutmeg taste that is comparable to each other. Maybe I'm mistaken tho. It is nice that you get to control the spices you want in it. We went just for the nutmeg, but you could easily add cinnamon or allspice or ginger... whatever floats your boat (or eggnog, in this case).

Here is the recipe, as we used it, which made enough for about 3 people

2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar for egg yolk (this was too much for our tasted, I would try 2-3 tbsps instead)
2 tbsps sugar for egg white (this seemed good because you don't want the fluff to be bland)
1/2 tsp of vanilla
a few good shakes of nutmeg (I didn't measure but I'm guessing 1/4 to 1/2 tsp)
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk

Mix with a whisk egg yolks, sugar for yolks, vanilla, nutmeg, milk, and cream.
beat whites until soft peaks, add sugar, beat until stiff peaks.
fold whites into yolk mixture.

Remember, you can always add more nutmeg, never less. Add a little and then work your way up. Also people can sprinkle it into their individual cups and then each person can like the flavor.

Like I said in the ingredients list, we thought 1/4 cup sugar made the base a little too sweet, but obviously what tastes good to us will be different than what you like.

I love, love, love how easy this was to make. I was expecting some complicated series of double-boiler catastrophes ending in a burned sticky mess. I was so glad this recipe was so simple!

Food Waste... Tuesday?

Hmm. I'm a bit late me thinks.

My Food Waste (from last week)
some goats cheese I accidentally bought a long time ago instead of feta. I thought it would work out... definitely was not the same. I kept holding onto it thinking "I'll find a use for it." So when I threw it out it had a nice creative new structure thanks to all the fuzzy mold holding it together in new ways.
I also wasted a roux sauce base that I burnt terribly (I hate the smell of burnt flour). I was more sad about the butter than the flour tho.
I know there was something else I wasted but I can't remember what it was.

I almost wasted a whole butternut squash! I looked down and saw my lovely squash covered in magenta and blue mold (no lie) and I was very upset. But, being thick-skinned towards food spoilage, like the squash itself, I decided it was still safe. So I liberally chopped off the skin and some of the outer portion of the squash and roughly cubed and froze all the tasty meats. I do feel slightly bad as I also didn't save the seeds. I just added it to my compost pile. It was late and I was exhausted and didn't feel like staying up an extra 30 minutes to rinse and roast the seeds.

So, not too bad, and at least I averted a major food waste crisis, but only barely.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bread Update

Well friends. I am finally getting my bread back under control. I've had a string of failures lately and I've been kind of discouraged. Notice the lack of posting about bread failures? That's because I'm kind of embarrassed. Oh well, I guess it still tastes good, right? Just not for sandwiches.

Well, I already wrote about my foray into the world of sourdough--it's going great! I'm about to I just put my second loaf in the oven--much more risen and promising-looking. However, given my track record with fallen loaves, this isn't a sure thing yet. I am excited. I also made criss-cross cuts across the top to make it pretty. :)

I also had my first success in a long time last night with whole wheat bread. I am SO relieved to finally have a usable loaf of whole wheat bread in the house! I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch today to celebrate. It was amazing. It's a bit smaller than I would have liked, but I didn't really care--it was solid! And not fallen. And really soft and chewy, while still totally durable enough to slather chunky peanut butter all over.

So, I like to make my own bread because it's cheaper (when it works, lol) of course, but also because it avoids preservatives / artificial ingredients. Please don't feel like I'm telling any of you (my 3 readers, :) I love each of you) that you need to make your own bread. I'm just sharing my adventure with you.

In my bread journey, I'm trying to transition to more sourdough because of all the information I've been reading about making grains more digestible. It's interesting stuff, really. Because sourdough has live little beasties in it, the beasties eat part some of the sugar and other stuff in the flour, and in turn produce healthy leftover liquid stuff that gives it the sour taste. It's a win-win. If you don't want sourdough, you can soak your flour overnight to give close to the same health benefits of making it easier to digest without so much sour flavor. Also, I love me some sourdough. :) Fresh from the oven, slathered in butter... Oh yes.

Here's a source that helped get me started reading about wheat and different kinds of bread.

Also, I got to share my sourdough starter with someone at work and it made me feel good! Ok, that's probably lame, but I really liked getting to share something with a friend who will (and already has several times) use it and benefit from it. She's already completely showed me up on sourdough bread texture and rise wise, but mine had more of a sour flavor which I liked better.

Oh, ttfn. I will tell you all tomorrow how my second loaf of sourdough turned out!

Groceries :(

Ok. First the good news: I am so blessed with good friends. Last week (ahem, and a half)? The week where I disappeared from the blogosphere? The week where I didn't have time to sleep let alone cook? Yes, that week, some of my friends at the school I work for had lots of extra meals and easily bought my husband and I 5 or 6 meals each. It was such a blessing not to have to eat out every night and not to have use time on cooking instead of homework. And did I say this was free for us? It was such a blessing.

Now, the bad news. I might have gone a tad overboard grocery shopping this week. I was kind of excited. I also realized I haven't posted about my groceries since... mid last month. Fail.

I also lost the piece of paper that I had written my grocery totals on and don't feel like looking it up. So, this is the approximate, guesstimate, sort of close, grocery post list.

whole foods - $30 (2-3x)
whole foods - $85

So, I'm around $180 ish.

I got so excited when I went grocery shopping on Sunday. I bought fruit and more fruit, potatoes and carrots... a nice fresh chicken and amazing eggs from the farmer's market.

It was worth it! I will post about what's been cooking later. I really will. I know I've been scarce even though school is done, that's because I keep doing ridiculous things at work like deleting portions of a website and then having the restore for whatever reason make 30 links broken which I then had to fix by hand.

That's my story.

But my chicken tasted awesome. :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010



In my absence, I've started making sourdough. So far, I've made a whole wheat sourdough loaf right now I have sourdough cinnamon rolls rising. I can't wait. Part of my food waste these past two weeks has been from my failed sourdough attempt, but all in all I think I wasted only 2-3 cups on my first attempt. I switched to using whole wheat flour (which supposedly has a higher wild yeast content) and I haven't had any problems since.

So far my starter is only about 10-11 days old, but it already makes such good flavor. The bread I made tasted soo good, if a little dense. I've already shared my sourdough starter and a piece of the bread I made with a person from work and she is now making sourdough today. Score, helping spread healthy eats.

It was actually really fun for me to make my own sourdough starter--I felt like a scientist with this goopy, bubbly, alive mess in this jar. It's also a little bit like a pet right now. Because it's such a new starter, I have to feed it every day while it develops flavor, etc. It's really intriguing.

I might post later about how to make a sourdough starter and the health benefits of sourdough, but for now, I've got to go put my cinnamon rolls in the oven!

Food Waste Friday

Yikes! Not a good 2 weeks for us. I didn't post last week due to intense mayhem, but here's the rundown of all the food that I didn't manage to salvage.

My Food Waste
a failed dinner that would have had lots of leftovers, but it wasn't that good and my husband actually got sick off of it I think. It was kind of a lot.
1/3 of a so-so casserole that we just didn't have the heart to keep eating.
a bunch of flour in a failed sourdough starter
some oatmeal from failed soaking attempts (not too much, but still)

so... pretty much, I've wasted a lot of food. This makes me sad. My cooking was way off track or something because I usually don't have problems with food being nigh inedible. But tonight, dinner was delicious, so I think after finishing the paper I am back to my old cooking self again. Which is good, because I can't afford to eat out!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I'm Baaaa-aaaack

Well, I've been absent for a while--it feels like weeks. That's because I've been going non-stop to meet my deadlines for school. I told myself I wasn't going to blog anymore until I got my act together, haha. So, I turned in my project last night at midnight, did my last piece of homework after that, and now except for one final I AM FREE.

So, coming soon, expect to hear about my woeful eating, some charity of friends, and my latest cooking projects (and maybe, just maybe, I'll get back on track with my posture project.)