Friday, May 29, 2015

Playlist: May 2015

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably already know how much I love music and making playlists.

Unfortunately, sometimes I have trouble coming up with a great theme for those playlists. I had a few ideas this month, but none of them really seemed right ... Nothing really fit in with any of my other posts or experiences in May.

So instead of coming up with an awesome playlist that perfectly describes the month of May for me, I've decided to revert to my old standby theme: "shit I like." It's not really a theme, but it is a way for me to share some of my current favorite songs with anyone who checks out my blog.

I'll try to be a little more creative next month, I promise! But for now, please enjoy a few of the songs I can't get enough of right now. (Please note that since my playlist last month only featured songs by The Decemberists, I refrained from adding any here ... I thought that might be overkill. I've been listening to them a lot lately, though, and today is particularly exciting because I'm seeing them live tonight!)

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Oh, and one last (unrelated) thing before I share the actual playlist. I'm going out of town yet again next week. I'll be attending a conference in Philadelphia for work, and I'm planning to travel as light as possible ... So that means no laptop for a week (which, for me, also means I won't be keeping up with my blog). I'm a little more organized this time around so a few scheduled posts will pop up while I'm away, but don't be offended if it takes me a little longer than usual to respond to comments.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Trying to Live in the Moment in the Age of Blogging and Social Media

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Even though I was only in Florida for a few short days, I decided to take a weeklong break from blogging. Sure, I could have scheduled some posts before I left, but I just didn't have the time or energy to do that ... So I didn't.

While I was away, I took very few pictures. My days and nights were mostly spent lounging around with my friends, talking, laughing, eating, and drinking. It wasn't the most exciting or eventful trip, but it was relaxing and fun ... And that's exactly what I was hoping for.

The thing about blogging is that sometimes it's difficult to just live in the moment. I'm always looking around for something I can photograph to make my posts more beautiful or thinking of the ways in which I can write about my thoughts and experiences.

I think this extends to most people today, though ... Not just bloggers. Just think about every time you log on to Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media outlet. Whether the person blogs or not, you're guaranteed a variety of pictures and/or blurbs detailing everything from vacations and parties to births and graduations to new haircuts and random meals. There's almost no need to interact with anyone anymore since everything you'd ever need to know about them is plastered all over the internet.

I'm not saying I'm any better. I obviously write in this blog, sharing personal thoughts and stories and pictures from my life. I never know if anyone will care about what I have to say (or if anyone will even stumble across my blog at all). Sometimes I feel self conscious about the things I share or the images I post. Once in a while (like now) I feel like I should have spent a little more time taking pictures so that I could have some visuals when I write about something I've done recently. (Because obviously if there are no pictures, it didn't happen ... Or that's what some people like to say, anyway.)

But here's the thing ... I wanted to be present while I was in Florida. I wanted to live in the moment, enjoy the time I had with my friends. I didn't want to waste my time focused on getting the perfect shot or thinking about how I could describe my time away in my blog. 

I have to admit that I did post a couple of pictures on Instagram while I was away ... I guess I just couldn't stay away completely. But, for the most part, I put away my phone and my laptop and just enjoyed myself.

And I'm so glad I did.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta

I follow quite a few food bloggers, so I see tons of amazing recipes on a regular basis. Sometimes, though, I come across something that makes me think, "I have to try this immediately!"

That's exactly what happened when I saw this recipe for Cajun chicken pasta ... I made it within a week or so after it popped up on my Bloglovin feed.

I honestly don't know why I waited so long to post it here. I think I just had a bunch of other pasta recipes I wanted to share and, since I didn't want my Tasty Tuesday posts to become focused solely on pasta, I had to make sure I was writing about other types of meals as well. (Though, let's be honest, I love pasta and could easily post a million pasta dishes on this blog.)

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Creamy and flavorful with a bit of a kick, this delicious meal is sure to impress!




































I expected this recipe to turn out well (I mean, how can you go wrong with pasta, chicken, fresh vegetables, and a creamy sauce?), but I didn't know it would be this good. It's simple enough for a casual weeknight dinner, but delicious enough to impress guests. So if you're looking for a new pasta dish to try, I highly recommend giving this one a shot.

Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta

Adapted ever so slightly from a recipe on Cooking Classy.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 box short pasta (I used Garofalo organic casarecce from Costco)
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic (or, if you're lazy like me, the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic)
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced into thin strips
  • Cajun seasoning (I didn't use an actual Cajun seasoning blend, but you'll want to use approximately 6-8 tsp if you're using a store bought blend. You can obviously use this if you want to make things easier, or you can make your own by whisking together 2 1/2 tsp paprika, 2 tsp sea salt, 2 tsp garlic powder, 1 1/4 tsp oregano, 1 1/4 tsp thyme, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp black pepper, and at least 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. If you want more heat, add 1 tsp or more. I used 1 tsp cayenne pepper and the sauce had a nice kick but wasn't overly spicy.)

Instructions:

1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2.  Heat a grill over medium high heat.

3.  Rub the chicken on both sides with 1 tbsp olive oil and approximately 2 tsp of the Cajun seasoning. Grill the chicken until it has cooked through and no pink remains. 

4.  Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the grill and place it on a cutting board. Allow the chicken to rest for about 5 minutes, then slice it into thin strips.

5.  While the chicken is on the grill, add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook according to package directions and drain. (Be sure to reserve 1/3 cup of the pasta water before draining!)

6.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the garlic and flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. While whisking, slowly pour in the milk. Continue whisking vigorously in order to smooth any lumps in the sauce.

7.  Add 3 tsp of the Cajun seasoning to the sauce, stirring well to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat to low. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and heavy cream, cooking until the cheese has melted into the sauce. Once the cheese has melted, remove the sauce from heat and set it aside.

8.  Heat the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the red and yellow peppers, red onion, and remaining Cajun seasoning. Cook until the vegetables have just softened (this should only take a few minutes).

9.  Toss the drained pasta with the pepper and onions, then pour the sauce over the mixture, stirring to coat evenly. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add the reserved pasta water 1 tbsp at a time until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. (I prefer thick, creamy sauces on my pasta, so I actually didn't use any of the reserved pasta water when I made this. It's definitely a personal preference, though, so I'd suggest saving some of the pasta water just in case the sauce is too thick for your tastes.)

I will say that although the leftovers weren't terrible by any means, they weren't amazing. The sauce separated a bit upon reheating, and the flavors weren't as rich. If you want to avoid having so-so leftovers, I'd suggest cutting this recipe in half. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - May 2015 Edition

I didn't read as much as I'd hoped over the last month, but I'm here to share what I did manage to get through for the Show Us Your Books! link-up.

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Innocents by Cathy Coote - 248 pages

Completed on 04/25/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

This is essentially a book about sex. It almost felt as though I was reading someone's diary ... A diary filled with each and every graphic detail of their sexual encounters. But don't be fooled ... This was actually a pretty well written book. (Especially considering that Cathy Coote was only 19 when she wrote it!)

Innocents is an interesting take on the forbidden student-teacher relationship trope told from a 16-year-old girl's point of view. The majority of the novel is a letter she's writing to her lover, a confession in which she admits that she was never as innocent as she allowed him to believe. As she details their time together, she reveals all the ways in which she manipulated a man more than twice her age to do everything she wanted ... Until she eventually pushed too far.

One of the things I really liked about this book was Coote's ability to write about sex in such a realistic way. Sex isn't always pretty and it isn't always amazing (particularly when you're young and just figuring it all out) ... But, because most people want to read/watch a fantasy, it's usually presented as such in novels and film. I appreciated the fact that she wasn't afraid to discuss even the ugliest moments in this fictional relationship.

I enjoyed the book, but I didn't love it. I think I wanted more from it than it actually delivered. I didn't like that the main characters were never named (though I think that's just a personal preference). I hated that he always called her "darling" and "baby" and, quite literally, babied her to the point of squick. Yes, she was underage, but she was 16 ... At times he treated her as though she were 10 (or younger). I'm sure it was intentional, an effort to point out how inappropriate their relationship was and the fact that he was a pedophile (despite his insistence that he just loved her, regardless of her age), but it was just really weird.

Additionally, some of the events in the novel were just completely unbelievable. Despite her care to write about sex and the girl's twisted manipulations of her lover in a very realistic way, Coote forced me to roll my eyes when it came to other aspects of their relationship. Without giving too much away, the main characters quickly find themselves living together with the male main character willing to give up his teaching career (and his home) for this young girl he barely knows.

And the ending? I really wanted it to end differently, and was disappointed with the way things actually played out.

I know I'm making this book sound terrible, and it really wasn't. Due to the subject matter, I'd say it's definitely not for everyone, but it kept my interest.

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May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes - 480 pages

Completed on 05/10/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

This book.  Where to begin?

The first 20 or so pages were amazing, and I was immediately drawn into the novel. The main character, Harold, begins having an affair with his brother's wife. When George (the brother) finds out, he attacks her by bashing her head in with a lamp ... All while Harold lies next to her in bed.

This is the major catalyst for everything else that unfolds. In May We Be Forgiven, Harold tries to make sense of his brother's violent actions, deals with his own crumbling marriage, learns how to care for his niece and nephew, and struggles to create a better version of himself. Sounds good, right?

Well, for the most part it was. This is the second novel I've read by Homes (the other being the incredibly brilliant and disturbing The End of Alice, which I may reread at some point soon), and I really enjoy her writing. Though this book is much different from The End of Alice, it's clear she knows how to craft an interesting story. I really appreciated her use of dark humor in this novel, and some of Harold's thoughts and views on certain aspects of American life had me nodding along.

This wasn't a perfect novel, however. I wanted to like this book more than I did (mostly because I held A.M. Homes to a very high standard after reading The End of Alice), but I think sometimes I set myself up for disappointment when I have very high expectations of an author or book. (Obviously I do ... I mean, I basically said the same thing about Innocents in my review above.)

One of my biggest issues with this book was the fact that almost everything was completely over-the-top. I can suspend my disbelief while reading, but sometimes I just thought she took it too far and made it seem ridiculous. She also managed to stuff almost anything you can think of into the story and spent more time on some of these things than was probably necessary while neglecting some other, more interesting subplots. If you're wondering what I mean by "almost anything," here are a few examples of things that were included in this novel: a considerable amount of information on Richard Nixon, a detailed account of a trip to South Africa, an attempted carjacking, a bar mitzvah, a missing local girl, an inappropriate student/teacher relationship, random sexual encounters with people found online, a swingers club ... Need I go on?

Another thing that bothered me was the reliance on stereotypes for some of her characters. Some things even made me think, "Is this supposed to be racist? I can't even tell where she's trying to go with this." Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but it just really bothered me. And, judging from some of the other reviews on Goodreads (which I skimmed after finishing the book), I'm not the only one who felt this way.

Despite its flaws, May We Be Forgiven was a fairly enjoyable read. While certain parts really didn't add much to the story, there were flashes of brilliance throughout the novel ... And that was enough to keep me reading.

Next month I should (hopefully!) have more than just a couple of books to review. I think this month's personal challenge will help push me to focus more on reading, which is definitely a good thing since I'm behind on my 50 book goal for the year.

I was going to try to finish another book before posting this (I'm almost done!), but I really wanted to join the link-up before the end of this week. I'm headed to Florida on Saturday morning, and I know blogging isn't going to be my main focus once I arrive.

I'm not even sure if any posts will go up while I'm gone. I was planning to get at least one post written and scheduled, but I haven't gotten around to it ... So there's a good chance I'll just blow off blogging for a week and then pick things back up the following week. We'll see, though. I still have a little time before I leave.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Cookies and Cream Fudge

I just realized I haven't posted a dessert recipe since December. This probably isn't that surprising since I'm not really known for my ability to make amazing sweet treats. I'd like to push myself out of my comfort zone a little more often and try to make more desserts, but honestly it's just so much easier to buy them at a bakery or grocery store.

Once in a while, though, I find a dessert recipe that's simple enough for me to tackle. These recipes are typically of the "no bake" variety, and the fudge recipe I'm sharing today is no exception.

This fudge is a delicious mix of white chocolate and crushed Oreos. It's rich and decadent (so probably not the kind of thing I should be sharing as we're entering bathing suit season), and, as I said before, it's very easy to make. Seriously ... If I can make it, anyone can!

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I don't think any picture can do this fudge justice. It's just so good!











































Cookies and Cream Fudge

A recipe from Love From The Oven.

Ingredient List:
  • 3 6 oz. packages white chocolate baking squares
  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 18-22 Oreo cookies, coarsely crushed (I used 22 cookies and crushed them by placing them in a gallon sized Ziploc bag and smashing them with a can. I could have used my food processor, but this method didn't require any additional cleanup.)
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
Instructions:

1.  Line an 8x8 inch pan with wax paper and spray the paper with cooking spray. Set the pan aside.

2.  Combine the white chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, and sea salt in a large saucepan.

3.  Allow the mixture to melt over low heat, stirring regularly to prevent clumping and burning. (As in my last fudge recipe, I recommend sticking close to the stove while you're melting the chocolate.)

4.  After the chocolate mixture is completely smooth and melted, remove the pan from the burner and stir in the crushed Oreos.

5.  Pour the chocolate and Oreo mixture into the prepared pan, spreading it as evenly as possible.

6.  Place the pan in the refrigerator to allow the fudge to set. (As with my other fudge, I left this in the fridge for about 2.5 hours.)

7.  After the fudge has set, remove the pan from the fridge. Lift the fudge out of the pan using the wax paper, then cut the fudge into pieces. (I got 20 pieces of fudge from the batch I made.)

If you're a fan of the cookies and cream combination, you should definitely try this fudge. The Oreo flavor is strong without being overwhelming, and the fudge is rich and delicious. And, as I said before, it's a ridiculously easy dessert ... It's perfect for those of us who aren't amazing bakers!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Musings on Motherhood

As I'm sure we all know, Mother's Day was yesterday. Last year I shared a little about my relationship with my mom in an effort to celebrate how awesome she is from afar.

This year I decided to do something a little different and focus my Mother's Day post on my own thoughts on becoming a mother. (And before anyone reading this jumps to any conclusions, I need to say that I am not pregnant.)

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Image provided by Unsplash (unsplash.com) and edited by me.

























I'm going to be completely honest and say that I've never really wanted children. As many of my friends talked about their hopes of finding a great guy to settle down and have kids with, I dreamed of having an interesting career, traveling the world, and writing and publishing novels. And, while I thought it might be nice to have someone to share my life with, I wasn't overly interested in getting married.

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time (or even if you look at my "About Me" page), it's pretty obvious that I eventually decided I could do the whole marriage thing. I was terrified, though. I mean, marriage isn't something I took lightly ... It's a pretty big commitment.

However, marriage isn't the biggest commitment you can make. That honor goes to becoming a parent.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm pretty wishy washy when it comes to having children. There are so many pros and cons, and sometimes I feel overwhelmed at the mere thought of having a person in my life who is completely dependent upon me for everything. Yes, I know they eventually get older and more self sufficient, but it's not like that happens overnight.

I can be a pretty selfish person. (See #9 here.) I like having time for myself to read or write or listen to music or watch something I enjoy on Netflix. I like traveling. I like my regular trips to the hair salon. I like treating myself to a nice meal out or new clothes or a concert.

Deep down I know that having a child doesn't mean you have to give everything up. My mom has always been awesome and has always put me first, but that didn't mean she didn't do things for herself as well. When I was growing up, we always had regular appointments at the hair salon. We'd go out to eat on a fairly regular basis (often with the rest of my incredibly small family). We went on some cool vacations, including a trip to Massachusetts (spending most of our time in Boston and Salem) when I was 9 and a trip to California that included stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco when I was 12. We enjoyed shopping trips together and she would typically buy things for both of us (unless we just couldn't find anything we liked).

We didn't do everything together, though. I spent time with friends or alone (I've always needed my alone time!), and my mom did the same. She also worked full time and managed our household alone for the majority of my life (my parents divorced when I was pretty young).

My mom obviously found a way to balance being a mother with being an individual with her own set of interests and hobbies. In doing this, I was also given the freedom to grow into my own person ... She wasn't hovering over me constantly or playing with me every second. I was able to learn to be more independent and more creative. This isn't to say that she didn't spend time with me or help me with things, but she gave me room to develop my own interests and skills and I think I've benefited from this tremendously.

But here's the thing ... Even though I had a great maternal role model, I'm scared to become a mother. I know absolutely nothing about kids. I don't even particularly like kids. I've never changed a diaper. I've never held a kid that was younger than 7 or 8 months. And pregnancy and childbirth? I fear that more than I fear death. (And no, I'm absolutely not kidding about that.)

Some days, though, I think it might be okay to have a kid. I'd have an opportunity to fill someone's life with great experiences. I'd be able to teach them to be understanding and open-minded (among other things). I could create an environment encouraging a love for learning and books and music. And I'd be lucky enough to do it with a great partner.

But I'm still scared. This isn't something you can just jump into without any real thought. Kids are expensive and time consuming (especially for the first few years of their lives!). As I said earlier, having a kid is probably the biggest commitment you can make. (And, unfortunately, I have an extreme fear of commitment.)

I often wonder, "What if I just don't like being a mom?" I mean, really ... What then? This is exactly why I think having a child is a bigger commitment than getting married. If you're unhappy in a marriage, you can get divorced. It's not ideal, obviously, but it's a solution if your problems are too great to be resolved. If you're unhappy as a parent, though, what can you do? You can't just dump your kid off onto the nearest relative and take off (well, you could but you really shouldn't if you don't want to fuck that kid up for life). You're kind of stuck (at least for 18 years).

I know this isn't something I'm going to figure out immediately. I don't anticipate waking up one morning with a sense of clarity that leads me to believe I'm going to be a great mom (or, conversely, a sense of clarity that makes me realize I should never be a mother). These are just my random thoughts on the subject.

It's something I do think about often because, as a woman rapidly approaching her 31st birthday, I can't afford to put it off forever. I know I'm still relatively young, but I also don't have the luxury of taking several years to figure it all out. When I was in my early 20s, the idea of getting married and having kids seemed like something I wouldn't even have to consider for a long time. And I was right ... I mean, I didn't get married until I was 29. I obviously had plenty of time to figure out if marriage was something I actually wanted. But now I don't have 8-10 years to decide if having kids is right for me.

This post is all over the place and longer than I anticipated. (And probably a little heavy for first thing on a Monday.) I guess the point is this: I'm still not sure how I feel when it comes to the idea of motherhood, but I need to figure it out pretty soon.

 If you read through my rambling, thank you. And if you have any advice or thoughts on this topic, please feel free to share in the comments (or in an email if you're not comfortable posting those thoughts here).

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sleep Less, Read More: My May Goals

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As I said in my last post, this month's personal challenge is all about reading.

I was really excited when I initially saw the theme for this month because, as you may have noticed from my participation in the Show Us Your Books! link-up, I love to read. I was hoping that this challenge would push me to get through more books in a shorter time frame since I'm already behind schedule with my 50 book reading goal. However, after a somewhat last minute trip to Florida was planned, I knew that probably wouldn't happen. I plan to read on the plane, but I doubt I'll be reading much while I'm there since we're trying to cram a bunch of shit into just a few short days.

Because of that, I decided to keep my goals pretty simple this month. I still may not achieve all of them, but at least they're not so ambitious that I'm just setting myself up for failure.

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I'm totally kidding about the title of this post, by the way. However, the e-Card I posted above completely describes me ... So maybe the title is kind of true?

My May 2015 Goals:


1.  Read and comment on blogs more often. Lately I've been letting the posts pile up in Bloglovin, and I really need to get caught up. When I log in and see that I have 300+ unread posts, I immediately think, "How am I ever going to get through all of these?" and then I lose all motivation to read any of them. And since I'm not reading a lot of blogs regularly these days, I'm also not commenting much. I'd like to change that.

2.  Read at least 3 books this month. I should be averaging 4 books each month anyway to stay on track with my 50 book goal for the year, but I'm already 5 books behind schedule (according to Goodreads). Clearly it isn't always easy for me to find the time to read.

3.  Get a library card. I'm going to be completely honest and say that I'm embarrassed that this is actually something I need. I used to go to the library with my mom at least once or twice a week when I was younger. I obviously utilized the library when I was in college. After college I got into the habit of just buying books (or borrowing them from friends). And after moving a couple of times (first to Wisconsin and then to Nebraska), I just sort of forgot about getting a library card. Now I'm realizing that I should definitely have one. Not only will it save me money, but it will also force me to read my books more quickly since I actually have a deadline.

I feel like these are pretty realistic goals for this month, but we'll see how it goes!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Monthly Personal Challenge Link-Up: April Results

Not Entirely Perfect

April's personal challenge link-up focused on finances. After wasting way too much money in March, I was ready to make some changes. While I didn't want to make extreme, unrealistic goals for myself, I wanted to challenge myself to think a little more before making random purchases.

In case you're new to the blog (or you just don't remember), my April goals were as follows:

1.  Completely cut out frivolous food purchases.

2.  Create a meal plan for the month and stick with it. On the surface this may not seem like a true financial goal, but I knew I'd be less likely to go out or pick up fast food or other snacks if I actually took the time to make a meal plan.

3.  Earn at least my first Swagbucks daily goal every day this month.

4.  Continue putting money into savings.

5.  Pay at least $50 more on my car payment this month.

So, how did I do?

1.  I honestly still can't believe I can say I completed this goal. This was (sadly) really difficult for me. Most difficult of all was giving up my beloved Starbucks Doubleshots. Last Thursday I said something about how I couldn't believe I didn't cave and buy at least one during the month, and one of my friends from work said, "I'm actually really impressed that you didn't! I thought you wouldn't be able to hold out that long." I obviously have a problem. (Or maybe I should say had? I haven't had one since the very end of March!)

2.  I'll give myself a pass on the meal plan. I wasn't as organized as I'd hoped, but I managed to put something together most nights for dinner (and if I didn't, Eric did). We didn't randomly go out a bunch of times just because we couldn't figure out what we wanted for dinner, and that was the whole point of the meal plan anyway.

3.  I've been using Swagbucks a lot more lately, so I was easily able to hit at least my first daily goal every day in April. I wish I could say that I'll keep it up, but I know that Swagbucks will be the furthest thing from my mind at certain points in the next 3 months. I'm going out of town in May, June, and July, and I'm definitely not going to spend my time away earning Swagbucks!

4.  This was a really easy goal for me since I'm already in the habit of saving. I have money automatically transferred from my checking to savings accounts (yes, plural ... I have 3 savings accounts) a couple of times a month. Additionally, I've been following a fairly aggressive savings plan and have managed to put back even more money each week. I feel like I still have a long way to go before I reach my personal savings goals, but I'm really proud of myself for sticking with the more aggressive savings plan.

5.  I actually paid a little more than $50 extra on my car payment, but not by much (I basically just rounded up to the nearest whole number). I've been paying a little extra for the last couple of months, and I'm planning to keep it up. I can't wait until I can say I owe nothing on my car! 

Overall, I stuck with my goals. Unfortunately, I didn't completely curb my spending.

As you may have already seen, Eric and I went out a couple of times last month. I didn't pay for any of the food, drinks, or entertainment (with the exception of putting $5 in a jukebox) out of my own money, so I managed to avoid the dreaded frivolous food purchases. (In case you missed this in an earlier post, we keep both separate and joint bank accounts so that's how I got away with that.)

Things I didn't avoid:

1.  Expensive plane tickets. I bought a ticket to Florida and a ticket to Ohio and spent over $900. Thankfully the purpose of each of these trips is to visit friends, so I didn't have to book any hotels.

2.  New clothes. In my defense, it was all necessary: a couple of pairs of yoga pants (all of mine were getting pretty worn), a bra to wear under thin white shirts (I only had one that wouldn't show through so I had to juggle when I wore certain tops), and a bathing suit (I needed one for Florida since I didn't actually own one that fit). I also used a $50 gift card and a code for 20% off my bathing suit, so that helped me feel a little less guilty.

3.  Beauty products. I didn't pull the trigger on a few of the more expensive items I've been eyeing (namely a curling wand and some skin care stuff), but I know I spent well over $100 on random beauty products last month. 

In addition, Eric had to get some repairs done on his car and they weren't cheap. Whomp whomp. Sometimes I really hate owning cars. And although I didn't pay for the repairs myself, it's worth noting since it was an unexpected expense for our household.

So yeah ... I stuck with my goals, but I didn't really save any extra money. Basically I just spent the money I would have spent on food and drinks on other shit. (Okay, I spent much more than that ... I mean, I definitely don't spend $1000+ on dining out in a month!) And while I spent quite a bit on plane tickets, it will totally be worth it to spend some quality time with my friends.

Tomorrow I'll post my goals for May. The theme for this month's challenge is read. I have a couple of things in mind, but I have to remember not to overwhelm myself and set unattainable goals. It's harder for me to stick with these challenges when I'm away from home!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Tex-Mex Mini Meatloaves

Since today is Cinco de Mayo, I thought I should share a recipe full of Mexican/Tex-Mex flavor. However, instead of something more traditional like tacos, enchiladas, or burritos, I'm sharing a recipe for meatloaf.  Yes, meatloaf.

I posted a recipe for mini cheese meatloaves back in August, and they were such a hit in our house that I wanted to try making a variation. Eric and I both love Mexican food, so I thought I'd tweak that recipe by adding some of those flavors.

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I know this probably looks like your average mini meatloaf, but it's packed with spicy Tex-Mex flavor!












































In this version, I combined lean ground beef and spicy chorizo, then added an extra kick with a diced jalapeƱo pepper. For even more flavor, the meatloaves were smothered in a hot chipotle enchilada sauce before going into the oven. The result was a spicy, delicious, melt in your mouth version of a classic comfort food.

If you're looking for something a little different for your Cinco de Mayo dinner (or if you just want to try a new twist on a classic), give these mini meatloaves a try!


Tex-Mex Mini Meatloaves

Adapted from a recipe on Diva Eats World and this recipe from my blog.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 8 oz. chorizo sausage
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeƱo pepper, diced
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar Jack cheese (You could also use pepper jack or a Mexican blend cheese if you want to add even more spice to this dish.)
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 1 cup mild red enchilada sauce (I just used a canned sauce, but you could always make your own.)
Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Beat the egg and milk together in a large bowl.

3.  Stir in all remaining ingredients except the enchilada sauce and chipotle chili powder. Mix well using your hands.

4.  Spray a 9x13 inch pan with cooking spray.

5.  Shape the meat mixture into 8 small loaves (as I said in my previous meatloaf recipe, they will actually be more like patties than loaves), and place each meatloaf in the 9x13 inch pan.

6.  Combine the enchilada sauce and chipotle chili powder in a small bowl. Spoon a generous amount of sauce over each meatloaf. 

7.  Bake the meatloaves for 45 minutes, or until the meat has completely cooked through.

As you can see from the picture, I served these meatloaves with a side of Steamfresh roasted potatoes. I think Mexican rice would also be a good side dish option if you're not a fan of potatoes.

Friday, May 1, 2015

New Restaurant 3/12 in 2015: Lot 2

Eric and I both love breakfast/brunch food, so it was only a matter of time before we added a brunch place to our list of "new to us" restaurants this year. (If you're interested, you can read about the other "new to us" places we've tried in 2015 here and here.)

Our interest in Lot 2 began when Eric was searching for a place for dinner a couple of weeks ago. We ended up not going out that weekend at all, but I thought their brunch menu looked really good so I suggested we try it soon. We decided that this last weekend would be a good time to go, and I made a reservation last Tuesday. (If you're ever in the Omaha area and want to try this place, I highly recommend making a reservation a few days in advance. It's a small space and it remained completely packed the entire time we were there.)

Lot 2 is a trendy place with a hipster vibe, but I don't think anyone could feel out of place there. There was a good mix of people of all ages, and the servers were incredibly friendly and helpful when Eric had questions about some of the specialty brunch cocktails. And when he didn't love the cocktail he originally ordered, our waitress was quick to bring the drink menu back so he could get something else. When it took a while to get the second drink, she offered to take that off our bill as well. We obviously didn't hit the place up with the expectation of a free drink, but it was very much appreciated.

The best part of our experience, though, was the food. I decided to be adventurous and ordered the fried chicken and waffles. I've never eaten chicken and waffles before, and I think I've been missing out. Lot 2's version was amazing. And even though Eric's meal of smoked salmon was delicious, at least a couple of times during our meal he said, "I'm definitely getting that next time," while staring longingly at my plate. I was actually a nice wife during brunch and let him have not one, but two whole bites of my meal! That's probably normal for most people, but I'm usually like this:

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I wish I were kidding. (I also wish I could figure out why I can't shift this block of text completely to the left. I've tried everything and I now I give up.)

Anyway, moving on to the pictures from our brunch. As I said before, everything was delicious. We'll definitely be going back again soon!

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I had a couple of these mimosas and they were perfect.


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This was Eric's first cocktail (the one he didn't like). It was called Beer and a Smoke and unfortunately it tasted a little too smoky ... Kind of like drinking a beer with a cigarette butt dunked in it.

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This was Eric's replacement cocktail, Muddy Waters. This one had a cold brew coffee base, and he liked it a lot more.

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This is the smoked salmon dish Eric ordered. It was almost like a mix between a crepe and an omelet, and it was delicious.

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The star of the brunch, the fried chicken and waffles. The maple syrup was infused with bourbon and holy shit was it good!

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Eric decided he had room for a cinnamon bun, so he finished his meal off with this. This is the only thing I didn't try since I don't like cinnamon buns. He said it was awesome, though, so I'll take his word for it.

















































































































































































































































































And finally I'll end this post with a random collection of pictures that Eric and I took after we got home from Lot 2. Because, well, why not?

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I guess I should have checked my hair before we took these, but oh well. I'm posting them anyway!