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Sprouts haul!

Sprouts haul!

First off, I’d like to just note that I recently began working at Sprouts. It’s been a little hectic and very overwhelming, but I’m finally starting to feel more comfortable in my role. Since I love doing hauls and I need to force myself to […]

Arugula/baby kale pesto

I had 2 bags of fresh greens (1 bag baby kale and most of a bag of arugula) that had been sitting in my fridge for a week, and I wanted to use it up so I didn’t lose it. I was really craving some […]

Clementine box Easter centerpiece

About a week or two ago, I started putting together a little Easter gift for the two little cousins who are local. I initially picked up little treat boxes from the Dollar Tree that I was going to fill with goodies. Then I got everything home, did test run on the packaging, and realized the boxes were WAY too small. I was going to grab them cheap baskets (an option I wasn’t crazy about), and then I remembered I had some chalk paint and a giant stack of clementine boxes in my living room. Repurposed clementine boxes would make great Easter “baskets” for the girls! While I was doing that, it also dawned on me that I could take a clementine box, turn it into a little decor piece for my mantle and put in these wooden eggs I bought from Amazon a few weeks ago.

The project did change a little bit (I’m going to use the eggs for other decor, and I’ve decided to keep it on the coffee table instead of the mantle), but overall, I’m very happy with how it turned out. I’m hardly reinventing the wheel, but here’s what I did and how I did it. As with any and all DIYs I post, this is simply the way I did it, and I often sort of wing it with the help of Google/Youtube. I stuck with a clementine box because it’s what I had, and the size is perfect for my coffee table; use what you’ve got! A cigar box would work great; if you’re looking for something bigger, a wine crate would be great, too.

Supplies:
One clementine box
Paint brushes
Paint palette (I used a little one from the Dollar Tree)
Chalk paint in desired colors (FolkArt in lilac and Ceramcoat in teal)
Chalk paint wax (FolkArt clear)
Painter’s tape (if doing stripes; if not, don’t bother buying it)
Hot glue gun and glue sticks
Mod Podge
Glitter
2 small fake flower sprays
Wire cutter
Flocked bunny pick (found in the floral section at A.C. Moore)
1 pack of floral foam blocks
1 mossy mat
Craft glue — I used the craft GOOP. E6000 might be alright on this.
Flower shaped glitter (again, from A.C. Moore)
Spanish moss
Foam eggs (Dollar Tree)

1. Paint your box: My clementine box was smooth so there was no need to sand. The end pieces were cardboard and the sides with cheap wood with no glue, no writing, etc. On the Easter basket project, those boxes were all wood and the sides had some glue on them. I was able to blast the glue with a hair dryer and scrape off the bulk of it with a razor blade to get a relatively smooth surface. (I initially tried to sand it all, with left some weird marks on the box.) If you don’t already know, the beauty of chalk paint is that it requires no sanding and no primer. Since this box was in pretty good shape, I did not sand or prime it. I think it took about 4 coats total.


I decided I wanted stripes on the sides, so I used painter’s tape to get clean lines and added some lilac to them.

2. Wax your box: UGH. So, I did like the sheen that the wax gave to the box after it was buffed and dried. HOWEVER… The wax left my lilac stripes a little yellowed. I don’t know if I went a little heavy handed with the wax or if it was some weird reaction because I used two different paint brands or what. Also, I wasn’t paying attention, and I managed to set one freshly waxed and buffed side of my box on my lap. Where I was wear sweatpants. Covered in lint and cat hair. Oops! Check the manufacturer’s instructions for how long you need to wait to wax and to buff. It seems that some (like mine) call for a short (1-2 hour) period before buffing, while others want you to wait 24 hours.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ll be waxing another decor piece. In my opinion, it was a little too much work for the pay off. If I were chalk painting a piece of furniture, I would. I like the look of chalk paint, but for the most part, I really do not like the whole distressed trend. Personal preference is for something that looks clean and smooth.

At this point, I added a few dots of hot glue to the feet of the box to help prevent it from sliding everywhere.

3. Add flowers to the box: I just clipped off the individual flowers from each spray, pulled out the plastic centers, and put them aside. I saved the leaves to use for a little bit of contrast. I decided that I wanted my rough shape to be triangular, so I glued down a couple leaves onto each side of the box with Craft GOOP and then started gluing down the flowers. Since I had fewer pink flowers, I decided that I would mix them in for little pops of color. I did both sides because this was the point where I decided something that could be done as a centerpiece instead of just as something that would go up against the wall.

4. Glitter the sides: I wasn’t initially planning on glittering the lilac strips, but after I saw how yellow they came out post-waxing, I needed to cover them up. Initially, I was using a lavender glitter, but then I ran out, so I mixed in purple. It came out a little darker than I planned, but I still like it. I used a flat decoupage brush and carefully put Modge Podge on each lilac stripe. I wound up doing two coats of glitter on each side; I tried to use the flower glitter, but it was too chunky and it came out looking a mess, so I scraped it off and saved it.

Because I couldn’t find this anywhere online: I had no problems with either glue adhering to the waxed chalk paint.

5. Cut and fit the foam blocks: At first, this was a total and complete mess. I tried to use a box cutter and I just wound up with floral foam dust all over me. Then, I got wise and used a retractable knife. I clicked the blade out as long as it would go and was able to slice right through the foam blocks. Just cut it to about the shape of your box, pop the pieces in, and you’re good.

I think that I bought wet foam for fresh floral arrangements. It was cheap and it was in a workable size for me, so that’s why I got that.

6. Put down the mossy mat and finish it up: Mossy Mats have a grid on the back like contact paper. Just cut it to size and carefully adhere it to the top of your box. A couple pieces of the flower glitter wound up on top of the Mossy Mat, and I really liked it, so I sprinkled a little on top. I also trimmed the bunny pick with my wire cutters so it was a more appropriate length for this project and placed him right in the middle on the one side. I considered making a mini jute basket for the eggs, but settled on hot gluing down a little patch of Spanish moss and gluing the foam eggs down to that.

You’re done! It’s not perfect, but I’m really happy with how it turned out. If you’re reading, hope you enjoyed this!

A break through

About two weeks ago, I was able to snag a wonderful long weekend off from work. I was so burnt out (really, I still am, but I’m working on it), and I needed to have a chunk of continuous days off to just exist without […]

Apple pie bourbon

If you love bourbon and you love spiked apple cider, this is the recipe for you. Ingredients: 3 small Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced 2 sticks of cinnamon 1 tsp whole cloves 1/2 tsp whole allspice 1 vanilla bean, split (next time, I will […]

Getting your grocery budget set and organized

As I posted a little while ago, one of my 2018 goals is to start digging myself out of the financial hole I’ve created over the past few months. One of the ways I am going to do this is to create a firm grocery budget every week and use Ibotta/coupons to help bring me under budget. (Yes, I link to my Ibotta referral link, but no, this is not a sponsored post.)

This post is going to be about a few things: getting a handle on what you already have, making meal plans, and utilizing the technology you already have to help you budget.

1. Take inventory of your entire pantry.

Since this is the beginning of the year, the first item of business is to figure out what exactly I own and clear out expired food products. Clear out every nook and cranny where food hides. I’m talking your pantry, fridge, freezer, spice cabinet, snack stash, liquor collection, and (if you’re mean) additional pantry area. Clear out everything and write it all down with quantities. (Just do whatever works for you. For me, I note how many multiples of a full unit I have [i.e., 3 cans of tuna, 6 tubs of yogurt, 4 cans of chick peas] or how many partial quantities of a full unit I have [i.e., 1/2 a bag of frozen peas, 2 granola bars] and wing the rest of it. This method is meant to lessen my stress, not add to it!)

I use alcohol while cooking, and this a good way to keep those oddball liquors in the back of your mind. Like the time I convinced myself I was going to try and love Manhattans because I love bourbon and I’m almost 40. I told myself that I ought to start drinking cocktails adults drink instead of Wild Turkey and Diet (which doesn’t make me feel like the classy broad I am). Spoiler alert: I did not make myself love Manhattans. Apparently, my cocktail making skills are very rusty and I damn near sprayed bourbon and sweet vermouth all over my kitchen sink. It was terrible. I tried, but it just ended with tears and me gobbling down bourbon soaked maraschino cherries.

And that’s why I need to look up “ways to use up sweet vermouth.”

While doing this, I also checked expiration dates and put my eyes on everything. The Trader Joe’s harissa I wanted to try that leaked before I could use it? Trash. The spices that I probably bought before my other roommate moved out in 2015? Trash. You see where I’m going here. Now, I work in food service, and I’m not a stickler on expiration dates. I know that “best buy” dates are often just a guess. With that being said, I once gave myself a mild case of food poisoning because I ate roast beef that “was totally fine” because I really didn’t want to throw it out. Since then, I just throw out food if it’s even questionable. I’d rather throw out food than feel hungover all day without the fun of having gone out drinking the night before. Anything that looks or smells off, or items that were sealed and never refrigerated but have leaked get trashed. Anything that is a little past date that I probably won’t use also gets thrown in the trash pile.

I do these every couple months to help keep me organized and so I can make meal plans based around what I already have and what needs to be used up.

2. Make meal plans and stick to them.

I am usually pretty good about sticking to my budget. Well, until April hits and then it’s springtime and I want to grill and I want to buy ALLLLLLLLL THE DELICIOUS LOOKING FOODS AT TRADER JOE’S AND SCREW THIS BUDGET I WANT TO HAVE FUNNNNNNNN!

Obviously, that attitude isn’t going to work with getting me to my goal of moving to Colorado. For me, the trick is to combine “shopping” out of my pantry as much as possible, while still giving me the flexibility to buy new and interesting foods. In other words, limit myself without making myself feel trapped. So far, I’ve been doing pretty well this year. (To be fair, even though I didn’t have a ton of food in my pantry, I had gotten myself pretty well stocked up early last year and had plenty of good groceries to still choose from.)

Some of the things I’ve made to use up pantry items include:
beef chili — used up rice, cheddar, ground beef, spices, dried kidney beans
tilapia with vegetables, sesame ramen noodles, and ABC + kale slaw (the slaw was delicious, but could have used another tablespoon of dressing) — used up tilapia, frozen vegetables, scallions, ramen, edamame, frozen zucchini noodles (not a fan, they were in a giant block and I had to chisel them off; that’s what I get for being too lazy to clean my spiralizer), and lemons
Southwestern(ish) salads — used up black beans, frozen corn, and pepitas
chia seed pudding — used up chia seeds
buccatini smothered in tomato sauce with pork, spinach, and mushrooms — used up mushrooms, pasta, and ground pork
quesadillas — used up cheese, caramelized onions, salsa, and most of my 6 pound pack of blue corn tortillas

Obviously, there’s a fair amount of variety in here, not just in the types of food I’m making, but also in the styles and cooking methods. (Slow cooked tomato sauce vs. pan fried quesadillas, for example.) Typically, when I’m planning my meals for the week, I try to keep my eyes on both what I have and what’s on sale and build from there.

3. Work smart, not hard: using your phone/tablet/computer to make your life easier.

I have downloaded every grocery store app to my phone, and my grocery lists are usually made on my phone. When I’m really in the swing of things, I skim through the weekly grocery ads during commercial breaks or on my bus rides to/from work. After I’ve made an initial pass through, I start building my list with help from Ibotta.

As of right now, I don’t really use paper coupons. It’s not because I have any issue with using them; rather, I need to replace my coupon binder. The rings are a little misaligned and my inserts go flying everywhere, so it’s become more hassle than it’s worth right now. (Cue crying emoji here.) I’ve also learned that my favorite coupon clipping site has decided to close for good, so I need to find a new, reliable source of coupons for those weeks and months when I need to supplement my own collections.

Yes, I am one of those people who brings the entire binder to the grocery store with me. I do it so that I can easily revamp plans if necessary and just in case there’s an unadvertised sale on something, an item on clearance, or even just a sale I’ve missed. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen a great price for something I’ll use and was able to use coupons on it.

I also use my American Express whenever possible at the grocery store. I get 3% cash back on grocery purchases, and once I’ve started achieving my financial goals, that will become my primary grocery store card (instead of using debit cards; it just makes more sense to get 3% back instead of 1% back).

I’m also starting to track how much I spend on groceries, as well as how much I’ve saved on coupons/rebates apps on each trip. As of right now, my total is $84.56, and I anticipate I’ll spend another $10 or $15 on groceries for myself this week. It’s a little bit high, but this is a work in progress. With the budget I’ve set for myself, I have another $35.44 before I go over budget, which really is a lot of money for one person, even with 12 days left of January. Once I get a little more in the swing of things, I have plans to challenge myself to hit a certain average percentage of savings. Because I do a lot of shopping at Trader Joe’s, this one will prove to be a little difficult; Ibotta only has a handful of items available for Trader Joe’s (usually cereal), so it might be hard to hit an average savings of 50% or more. Then again, by shopping at my local Acme, I could plan things well enough that I’m average 70% or more in savings there, which could even everything out. I’ve also been toying with dropping my budget down even further a few months in (or at least keeping my budget at $30/week with a goal of $20/week).

Lessons learned so far….

One of the really great things about this little challenge is that I’ve begun better planning my meals for the week. Before I started doing this, I’d just grab a muffin at work, wash it down with a canned coffee drink, chug 3 or 4 sodas, and then eat something like baked ziti or mac and cheese for dinner. Without even thinking about it, I’d have blown through $45/$50 on meals at work! I only got tripped up this week because I overslept and didn’t pack my lunch, so I had to buy a sandwich yesterday. Even so, I think I’ve only spent about $9 at work this week, and I have two days left of my workweek.

2018 goals

I’ve been a stress/anxiety/mild depression fueled monster lately. I’m trying to dig myself out of the very deep hole I’ve put myself in. I’ve been stress eating, stress spending, blowing off a lot of responsibilities, and now it’s all coming back to kick me in […]

Merry Christmas to me?

This year has been a doozy. I feel like I’ve been saying things like that for the past four or five years. Most of the time, I honestly feel trapped. The main culprit is my job. Well, not just my specific job (as in, why […]

Leftover prime rib ragu

Every year, my dad makes a gigantic prime rib for our family Christmas party. Because it’s so huge and my mom doesn’t like leftovers, I wind up taking some home with me. I always repurpose my prime rib, because let’s be real: I’m never going to buy an entire rib roast for my roommate and me. (Although I’m sure our cats would love that!) It’s an opportunity to elevate dinner into something amazing.

Last year, I did a ton of faux pho and some prime rib quesadillas. This year, I decided to turn it up a notch and make a delicious ragu sauce out of prime rib. Now, I do not claim to be the authority on Italian cooking, but I’ve made pasta sauce enough to know this will be the bomb. Also, I wanted an excuse to use my brand new Lodge Logic enameled Dutch oven (one of many Christmas gifts from my parents).

A note on tomatoes: I used 2 cans crushed and a 17.64 box of Pomi tomato sauce because that’s what I had in my pantry. If I were buying ingredients, I’d probably use 2 large (28 oz) cans of whole tomatoes and simmer until they either broke down all the way or I got impatient. In the very likely event of the latter, I’d throw them in my blender. (You could use a food mill or a immersion blender if you have one. I’m still regretting the time I saw a food mill in the thrift store and passed on it.) Since I am using crushed, I’ll just cook them until they’re pretty nice and smooth.

If you choose to use diced, you will need to puree them because diced tomatoes don’t tend to break down due to the addition of calcium chloride.

Annndddd….

A note on beef: You could use leftover short ribs, chunk, flank…you’ve got a lot of options. I wouldn’t use anything too tender (i.e., filet), but I think most beef would hold up to this treatment. I have a feeling I’ll even use the same basic recipe for pulled pork that’s hanging out in my freezer.

Ingredients:

Olive oil
1/2 a medium onion
3 peeled small peeled carrots
3 ribs of celery
(Cut all of these on the small side! I went with a small dice on my onion and cut the carrots and celery to about the same size. Don’t forget to save your scraps!)
4 cloves of garlic, minced (you can do this by hand, with a garlic press, or even grated)
A nice sized pinch of red pepper flakes (omit if you don’t like heat)
Salt and pepper
1/4 c dry vermouth or dry red wine or chicken stock (for the non-drinkers)
2 14.5 oz cans of crushed tomatoes (I used fire roasted because that’s what I had from when I last made chili, but use what feels good to you.)
1 17.64 box of Pomi tomato sauce
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
Roughly 1 lb prime rib, cooked and trimmed of any large fat chunks/gristle (I give some to my cats and toss the rest in my scrap bag) and roughly cut/broken up with your hands.
1 lb pasta. I used buccatini, but you have so many choices
1/2 cup pasta water

1. Put olive oil on the bottom of your pan. As mentioned above, I used an enameled cast iron Dutch oven. This is the exact one I used. Turn your burner on to low/medium-low.
2. Toss in your veg (onions, carrots, celery, and garlic), red pepper flakes, and salt/pepper. Let ’em sweat down..about 5-10 minutes. I give them a stir, then give them a poke once they look like they’re getting soft. Once they’re soft, move on to step #3.
3. Pour in your vermouth to deglaze. Once you have scraped up the delicious crusty bits, crank the heat up to medium and cook down your booze (or chicken stock).
4. Turn the heat back down to low. Add in both cans of tomatoes, box of Pomi, bay leaves, and oregano. Cook it down by about 1/4 or so. If you need to puree your sauce, do it now and return it to the pot, bringing it back to a simmer. Add in your beef and let it simmer, stirring occasionally. I let mine simmer for about 20/30 minutes before starting my pasta water.
5. Get your pasta water started. Let the sauce simmer while it’s going. Add your desired pasta shape to the pot once it hits a

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Making turkey (or chicken) stock

I love making my own chicken (or, in this case, turkey) stock. 1. It’s so freakin’ easy. If you have your ingredients, a stock pot, water, and a chilly day, you have everything you need. 2. It’s so easily customizable. Play around with flavor profiles […]