Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Canada: Day One – Vancouver!

Well…in truth, about half of Day One was spent in an airport on on a plane somewhere.  But we landed in Vancouver around 2pm PST (4pm CST) and were starving.  So we hit up The Italian Tomato in Richmond, which was close to the airport and recommended by the agent at our rental car company.  The neighborhood looked a little sketchy, but the food was quite tasty.  They were dead, but I think that has more to do with the fact that we were there at 2pm.  I can personally recommend the Fettuccini Veneziana, a spicy chicken & sausage pasta dish.  The lunch portion is $11.95, but HUGE.  The Hubs & I split it and each had a small salad, and we were STUFFED.  Good stuff.

After that, we meandered our way north to Granville Island to do some exploring (and to hit up the 4pm tour of the Granville Island Brewery).  After spewing a few choice words at our GPS and getting turned around about 3 times, we finally made it to the island, just in time for the tour.  Actually, we ended up being the only people there, so we got a private tour!  Tours run $9.75/each and include three 4 oz samples of any of their brews on tap.  They had eight taps, so we each picked three and shared.

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Personal favorites: The Winter Ale and the Hefeweizen.

Our tour guide, Chloe, was awesome, sat around & chatted with us for quite a while, and made some recommendations for places we should check out before leaving town.

After finishing our tasting, we walked around the island a bit & headed to the Public Market…

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… where we learned that a) Canadian groceries are more expensive than U.S. groceries, and b) our stereotypical American lack of metric math skills gives us quite the handicap when it comes to guesstimating prices of things.  We averted this potential roadblock buy simply not buying anything. :) 

(FYI—there’s about 28 grams in 1 ounce, or 450 grams in 1 pound.  Just in case you need it for the future.)

The view from the pier behind the market is FANTASTIC, especially at night!!!

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After leaving the island, we headed to Gastown (aka downtown) on Chloe’s recommendation to check out Steamworks Brewing, another brewery that, unlike Granville, also has a restaurant attached.  They have a “Beer of the Day” special that will get you a 20 oz “sleeve” for $5.50 rather than $6.75 (score!).  We tried the Pale Ale and the Lion’s Gate Lager, and got a plate of Poutine to share for $7.95.

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Ahhh…poutine.  It was everything I imagined.  In the words of my Hubs: “It’s like crunchy mashed potatoes…with cheese.”  AKA: Delicious.

(Also—just so you know, the parking meters in Vancouver accept American change.  Just in case you run into a coin crunch….which may or may not have happened to us.)

After dinner, we made the drive further North over the Lion’s Gate bridge to North Vancouver where our hotel was.  And then we crashed around 8pm.  Because we’z wuz tired, yo.  Getting up at 4am CST will do that to a human. :)

More tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Canadian Cinnamon “Cookies” with Fresh Berries & Cream

Hello again!  We’re back from the Great White North.  …and I managed to tow back a Great White Cold, that I’ve code named “Canadian Goose Flu”.  It’s totally a thing.  (Okay, it’s not a thing, but it sounds good, and I did SEE some geese while I was there, alright?)

So let’s work our way through the trip, shall we?  And where else to start but at the beginning?  As in…the day before we left.

A big part of traveling is, of course, the PACKING.  There’s an art to packing for a proper trip.  For our honeymoon, thanks to the tutelage of Rick Steves, we managed to take everything we would need for a 12 day trip in two carry-on suitcases.  But of course, that was September, and Europe.  Most of our clothes were pretty light and easily compactable. 

This trip, we have to deal with SKI GEAR.  Big fluffy stuff. And winter sweaters and socks and the like.

Thank heaven for Space Bags. (Note husband and suitcase included for scale.)


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So then, once you’re packed, there’s the refrigerator that must be considered.  You’re leaving the country for 7 days—what needs to be devoured before you leave so you don’t come home to a stanky rancid mess?

The Usual Suspects:  yogurt, milk, 4 strips of bacon, half-loaf of bread, leftover peas, random produce, etc.

The night before our departure, we had managed to whittle our contents down to:

- a few remaining slices of potato bread

- 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream

- 4 oz carton of fresh blackberries


And I was craving sweets….but lacking the energy to make anything too complicated.

So, this little gem was born of some Kitchen Improv.

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Fleur-de-lis and Canadian maple leaves!  (Yes, I’ve been dying to test out my newest cookie cutters.)


2 slices potato bread (you could probably use any type of bread, but the potato bread makes this really similar to a brioche or challah)

1 tbsp light butter

cinnamon sugar

fresh berries of your choosing

1/2 cup whipping cream + 1 tbsp powdered sugar + splash of vanilla extract (or 1.5 cups already whipped cream)

(NOTE: I use the whipped cream recipe from Kitchen Basics.  Super easy, especially if you have a stand mixer.  Just add the ingredients to the bowl & let it run with the whisk attachment!)



Preheat your oven to 350 (or use a toaster oven).  Lightly butter both sides of each piece of bread, and then sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon sugar.  Toast for about 5-10 minutes, and then use a cookie cutter to cut out your preferred cookie shape. 

Don’t throw away the rest!!!  You tear that up, and place it in the bottom of a large bowl (or two small bowls, however you prefer, whether you want to share one dessert or make two separate ones).  Then dollop the whipped cream on top, cover with berries, sprinkle with some extra cinnamon for pizzazz, then add your fancy “cookies”. 

The “cookies” and the scraps at the bottom of the bowl are super crispy and buttery, almost like a toast-shortbread hybrid.  Comingle the vanilla-y cream, sweet fresh berries, and the crunchy bread, and it’ll satisfy any sweets craving in a heartbeat.


Come back tomorrow for some more Canadian goodness, eh? :D

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Oh, Canada…

Small announcement here: I’m going to be absent from this blog for about a week.  At least a week.  Because the Hubs & I leave tomorrow morning for our great white neighbor to the north.  We’ll be in Vancouver for a few days, out on Vancouver Island for about a day, and up skiing at Whistler Resort for 3 days.


Well…the Hubs will be skiing for three days. I will HOPEFULLY make it through a full two days.  Me & Skis…we have a love-hate relationship.  On the Green slopes, me & skis, we’re cool.  We’re having fun, making leisurely ski curves down the genteel slopes, stopping periodically to take photos of the scenery.  Anything more than that, or more than two days, and my knee gets fatigued, then the rest of me gets fatigued, and at that point there’s a 50/50 chance that I’m coming off that mountain mad at the world with tears frozen to my face.  Possibly carrying my skis and calling them hateful names under my breath.

But when we’re NOT skiing…we’ll be sight seeing.  And EATING.  One of my favorite things.

So here’s the Canadian Bucket List for our trip.  If you have suggestions that we should add to it, please leave a comment!

1) Tim Hortons.  Because…I mean…really, do you need a “because”?


2) Poutine.  I realize this is more of an “eastern” Canadian thing…but I’m still fairly convinced I can find it in Vancouver.  If you have a recommendation for WHERE—I’m all ears.


3) Nanaimo bars.  Again…does this really need explanation?  *sigh* FINE. Chocolate, almonds, coconut, grahams, vanilla custard, and MORE chocolate.  What’s NOT to love?

(I have a recipe to make these as well, but I figure I should taste the real thing before I attempt to copy it.)


4) Maple syrup:  My hubs LOOOOOOVES real maple syrup.  So I’m sure we’ll be smuggling a few bottles back with us.

5) BEER!  I’ve got a list of local microbreweries in Vancouver and over on the island.  We’ll probably try to taste a few bottles of local wines as well, if we can find any. (Again—all ears for recommendations!)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Semi-Homemade Ceviche!

So, did everyone have an enjoyable and safe New Year’s Eve?  Sober Chauffeur in tow (or a cabby)?  More curious—were you dressed appropriately for the weather, or were you dolled up in gravity-defying heels and sparkly Spandex that barely covers back door?  I saw an uncountable number of the latter while I was out this New Year’s Eve.  Granted, this is a college town, so maybe we’re privy to a larger ratio of these gals, but they still just leave me scratching my head.  It would be one thing if it had been 70 degrees and dry outside.  But no.  We had below-freezing temps, ice on the ground, and freezing drizzle coming down.  You couldn’t pay me enough $$$ to attempt walking in 5 inch platform heels while surrounded by black ice.  Heck…I’m relatively positive that I couldn’t do it even without the ice.  Give me cute, comfy flats any day.

Actually, in this weather, give me waterproof shoes with good tread.  That’s probably safer.

(I dub thee “Lady Faceplant”).

But they are quite festive, aren’t they?  And somewhat reminiscent of warmer climes.

Much like ceviche. (HAH—you didn’t think that segue was gonna work, DID YOU?  BAM.)

Ceviche is one of my absolute favorite foods EVER.  It’s so fresh and zesty with tons of texture and flavors, and you can eat it with a chip.  Like coastal nachos.

And since I’m planted smack-dab in the middle of the country, it’s really tough to find good ceviche…since there are no fresh shrimp.  When I visit Louisiana, my best friend & I nearly always make a trip to Coyote Blues in Lafayette for ceviche and Cajun Bloody Marys. 

So when the stores started offering 16oz cocktail shrimp rings for $4.99 around New Years, I snagged up a couple rings and dashed home to pull a Sandra Lee and take a stab at my favorite Gulf specialty.


8 oz cocktail grade shrimp, tails removed

1 avocado, diced

1 large tomato, seeds removed, diced

Juice of 1 lime

handful of fresh cilantro, minced

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

1 tsp Cajun Power garlic sauce

Salt & Pepper to taste

Tortilla Chips



Pretty simple—add all the ingredients to a bowl & stir.  No special order….just mix & stir until well blended.  If you like, add more/less cilantro, S&P, and lime juice to your taste.

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You can eat right away if you like, but if you let it sit overnight in the fridge (covered, of course), the flavors will marinate even more.

Perfect for a party, a quick appetizer, or even as your main course!


Since I didn’t have the fixin’s for Bloody Mary’s on hand, we opted for Mothers Brewery’s new “Holy Mole” instead.

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Makes 4 snack size servings or two entrée size servings.


NutriFacts: (includes tortilla chips)

Calories 302.3

  Total Fat 15.9 g

  Saturated Fat 3.1 g

  Polyunsaturated Fat 2.6 g

  Monounsaturated Fat 8.7 g

  Cholesterol 110.5 mg

  Sodium 319.9 mg

  Potassium 545.4 mg

  Total Carbohydrate 26.7 g

  Dietary Fiber 6.6 g

  Sugars 2.0 g

  Protein 16.0 g

Friday, January 4, 2013

Budget Fashion, and a 2013 Challenge.

Let me ask you a question:

How much do you think you spend on clothing/accessories in a year?

Up until yesterday, I didn’t know.  I mean, back in the day when I was on the Dave Ramsey “Cash Budget” plan, I gave myself $40/month to spend on clothes, accessories, and assorted beautification supplies.  And I know I didn’t usually use all of it.  Cash remnants in that category would periodically get used for a mini “shopping spree”, or get shifted into other categories, like “going out” money.

I haven’t been on a cash budget in quite a while, so I pretty much lost track of how much I spent on things.  But with this being the Hubs & I’s first full year of marriage, we wanted to keep track of all our spending & make sure it matched up with our annual budget.  Our bank offers a free online budgeting program called Finance Works that allows us to easily categorize purchases made with our debit cards, checks, and credit cards that we link into the software for tracking purposes.

So…what was the grand total? 

A whopping $236 for our entire household.  $145 of that was purchases made by me, while the remainder was the Hubs.

That seems…low.  But it’s pretty accurate.  Granted—there were some clothing items gifted to me by my mom (the queen of garage sales) and a few gift cards used… but overall…yeahh…$145.  A total of eight shopping trips.

So, what can $145 have possibly gotten me?  Well, based on my recollections after reviewing the breakdown:

- 2 pairs jeans

- 4 blouses/dress shirts

- 1 necklace

- 1 pair khakis

- some “beachwear” bought pre-vaycay (1 pair capris, 1 pair shorts, and a sundress)

- 2 bras

- 1 t-shirt


That’s about $10/item.  I’m sorta proud of that.  I’m a hardcore bargain shopper.  I shop primarily discount stores (TJ Maxx, Marshalls, etc) or outlets.  In fact, of those 8 shopping trips, only two were at non-discount/outlet stores.  I also usually only shop when I have a coupon of some type to use.  It is literally almost PAINFUL for me to spend more than $20 on an item.

And: I’m a gal with limited closet space.  So about 75% of the time if I’m making a purchase, it’s to replace something that got worn out (like the 2 pairs of jeans).  Though I’m by no means immune to buying “wants” if it’s a good deal (the necklace was a souvenir from our beach vaycay, and the t-shirt was bought at Old Navy for a whopping $4).

I also tend to avoid “trendy” items that are likely to go out of fashion as quickly as they showed up, unless they’re really cheap.

So all this budget review got me thinking: What about 2013?  Can I be just as thrifty buying what would normally be “bigger ticket” items?  There are a few things that have been on my wish list for quite a while, but I just haven’t actively sought them out, or haven’t found exactly what I wanted.  I really enjoyed doing my $20 Christmas Tree project last month, so maybe it’s time for another challenge.


The 2013 Fashionista Challenge: Buy all the items on my wish list for under $150.

What does that list include?

1. Brown riding boots:  I have flat black boots, and dressy heel boots in black and brown…but no flat brown boots.  I’ve been wanting a pair for a while, but hadn’t found a style/color that I really loved yet in my price range.  Target Price: $35.


2. New White Button Down Shirt:  This is a replacement piece.  My favorite white button down is starting to get really thin and a bit dingy.  Target Price: $15


3. Colored or Plaid Peacoat:  I have a plain black peacoat, but I’d really like to have a “statement piece”, and I love all the gray plaids I’ve been seeing out & about.  I’ll probably be hitting up thrift stores & Ebay for this search.  Target Price: $20.


4. A New Purse:  My current purse was a Christmas gift from about 2 years ago, and it’s starting to get really worn in places.  Yes….you read that right, I have ONE purse.  I do have a small clutch for fancy-dress parties, but otherwise…ONE bag.  About 5 years ago, I decided the “one black, one brown to match everything” purse concept was outdated & inefficient.  So I started buying colored purses.  Will probably be looking for burgundy, blue, or purple (LOVE jewel tones).  Target Price: $20.


5.  A Bangle Watch:  My favorite watch broke early last year and I haven’t gotten around to replacing it.  I love this concept because it’s a fashion accessory, but still functional. Target Price: $10.


6. Another Button Down Shirt:  Because Pinterest & Polyvore are conspiring to convince me that I need button down shirts to wear with all the cardigans I already own.  Target Price: $10.

The closest reproduction I could do would be black boots, jeggings, fitted black button-down, long olive I have a scarf that would go with that? Hm...


7 & 8.  An Off-White Cardigan and Red Flats: Because with those pieces, I can finally recreate this Polyvore outfit that I love—minus the Coach bag. (And because my former beige cardigan fell apart back in 2011, and because I’ve been lusting after a pair of red shoes FO-EVAH.)  Target Price for Cardigan: $15; Target Price for Shoes: $25.


So, there it is.  My 2013 Fashion Challenge.  The gauntlet has been thrown.  In like, a purely metaphorical sense, seeing as how I don’t OWN a gauntlet.  But here…here’s a picture of a gauntlet, so just imagine that it’s been thrown on the ground.

As far as rules?  There are no rules, other than High Fashion, Low Dollar.  I’ll be shopping at traditional retail stores, discount stores, outlet malls, as well as using Craigslist, Ebay, and second-hand stores.  I’ll post a follow up entry later this year once all the purchases have been made to see how I did.

And now, YOU:  Yes, you.  I’ve got a challenge for you.  If you don’t already track your spending, I challenge you to do so in 2013.  OR:  Just do it for ONE MONTH, to start.  Just to get an idea of what your spending habits are.  So many people out there just spend & spend, and then don’t WANT to know.  Like there’s shame associated with knowing, but if you can just claim ignorance it doesn’t matter?  It’s YOUR money.  Either you control your money, or it controls YOU. 

Either use a budgeting program like Quicken or Finance Works if you have access to them, or just save up your receipts and enter them into a spreadsheet at the end of the month.  Categorize items using classifiers like “Dining”, “Groceries”, “Rent/Mortgage”, “Household Items/Repairs”, “Auto”, “Entertainment”, “Clothing”.  That way you can sort and track your expenditures by category.

And if you spent more than we did on clothes?  SOOO not a big deal.  We’re on the EXTREMELY low end of the spectrum….like, “college kid Ramen budget” end.  I did some research and most financial planners say that spending anything less than 5% of your take-home pay on clothing & accessories is reasonable and manageable.  And your clothing budget depends entirely on YOUR lifestyle.  If you have to dress professionally in suits & high-end fashion for your job, then your expenses are going to be higher than someone like me who can wear “business casual” & jeans to work every day.

Or:  Try your own $150 Challenge.  Pick out 8-10 items that you really want to purchase in 2013, set yourself some target prices, and get to shopping!!!  Let me know in the comments if you’re down for the challenge!!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Best of 2012!

Here we are folks… two days in.  Have you broken your resolutions yet?  I hope not!  Just remember…I’m cheering you on.  Whatever they are, I’m here in Virtual BlogLand wishing you the best.  With tiny virtual pom-poms.  “BE! AGGRESSIVE!  B-E AGGRESSIVE!” :)

So far, so good here.  I drank five 16-oz glasses of water yesterday.  Pretty stoked about that.  Today, I’m on my second glass. 


So as a quick lil’ recap, I’d like to recount for you the five most popular posts of 2012! 

This is potentially more for my benefit than anyone else’s, but hey…it’s my blog.  So there.  Neener neener and stuff.


1. Wine Charm Pinterest Project

2. Thirsty Thursday:  Glowing Halloween Punch

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3. New Orleans Stuffed Artichoke


4. Microwave Mug Muffin (I think I can thank the chocolate chips for that…)


5. Louisiana White Beans w/ Ham & Sausage


And now…what can you expect here in 2013? 

Um… More of the same?  I think this Top 5 shows a good representation of this blog.  Three recipes (two of which are Cajun), a cocktail, and a craft project.  Yessir, we’re DIVERSE!

(Hopping on the lateral train of thought: Long ago, at a different company down in Louisiana, I was pulled out of my office to go out in the field to take some staged field work photos.  When I asked why, they told me the photos were going into our company calendar that they send out to clients every Christmas, and they wanted to make sure the calendar showed how “diverse” we were.  …I was the only female in the environmental department.  Good times…)


All joking aside, if there’s something in particular that you would like to see more (or less) of on this blog, now’s the time to speak your mind!  Is there a Cajun/nonCajun dish that you’d really like to see my take on?  Is there something you LOVE that is horrifically, horrendously bad for you that you’d like me to attempt a “healthed up” version of?  Some crazy cocktail?  More organization/budgeting tips?  More presshuss photos of our pug?  Restaurant reviews?  Go ahead…SPEAK!

Andouille & Potato Soup

When the weather gets cold, my cravings for soup increase dramatically.  And no brothy-chickeny soups will suffice.  I want CARBS, dangit.  I want creamy, opaque, hearty chowder-y soup that I couldn’t see through if I tried.

And a few weeks ago, thankfully, my husband had the exact same craving & I came home from work to find this soup waiting for me.


Soooooo yum.  We are DEFINITELY making this again.  It’s a spin on a traditional “ham & potato” chowder, using some smoked andouille sausage we had in the fridge.


3.5 cups peeled & cubed potatoes (Yukon Gold)

1/3 cup diced celery

1/2 onion, chopped

(1) 3-4 oz link of andouille sausage, diced

3.25 cups water

2 chicken bouillon cubes

1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)

1 tsp black pepper

5 tbsp light margarine

5 tbsp flour

2 cups skim milk



Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, sausage and water in a stockpot, add the chicken bouillon, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10-15 minutes.  

In a separate saucepan, melt the margarine over medium-low heat.  Whisk in four and cook, whisking constantly until thick.  Slowly stir in the milk as not to allow lumps to form until all of the milk has been added.  Continue whisking over medium-low heat until thick, about 4-5 minutes.

Add the milk mixture into the stockpot and cook until soup is heated through.  Serve with a slice of buttered bread (Because YAY more carbs!!!)  Makes 8 servings.



Calories 149.5

  Total Fat 6.7 g

  Saturated Fat 1.3 g

  Polyunsaturated Fat 2.0 g

  Monounsaturated Fat 0.9 g

  Cholesterol 6.2 mg

  Sodium 471.2 mg

  Potassium 374.4 mg

  Total Carbohydrate 17.4 g

  Dietary Fiber 1.1 g

  Sugars 3.6 g

  Protein 5.2 g