Weekend Round Up (Or Kygo and Persimmons, Oh My!)

It’s technically the weekend even though I’ve worked every day. Don’t worry: I have still managed to squeeze in some fun, though.

Friday I saw Kygo with Lola at the Hollywood Bowl.

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It was beyond.

Seal came on stage for a cover of Sexual Healing.

And there were fireworks.

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Tons of fireworks.

Saturday was all about sushi and football.

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As every Saturday should be.

And today I went to the Mar Vista Farmers Market in search of persimmons for a Halloween Party appetizer.

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My search ended in victory.

It’s persimmon season in LA, and I couldn’t be happier. I plan to slice these beauties and serve them with basil, mozzarella, and a balsamic reduction. It’s like Caprese but better because persimmons > tomatoes.

The Mar Vista Farmers market is near a Mexican grocery store that sells my favorite salsa verde in LA, so I try to make it a two for one when I head over there.

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Plus they have goblins. 

And free dog sitting.

I’ve never tried bringing my dog, though. I’m pretty sure Albus would figure out how to break out of the enclosure and head straight for the wild seafood.

Or the goblins.

He’s a magical dog.

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With big magical paws.

Okay, I’m off to watch the Packers before I head to work, but before I go I’ll leave you with a Kygo track because I’m generous like that.

It’s a remix of The Weekend’s Often, and I love it.

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Menu Planning for the Free Spirited Chef (Or I Satisfy My Inner Perfectionist and My Inner Flake)

Yesterday I wrote about the power of freezing leftovers to keep yourself on a budget. Another key to the equation is organized menu planning. Now, I’m not going to pretend I have THIS totally figured out, but I have made some serious headway.

Here’s what you need to know about me first, though: I’m equal parts driven-type-A-perfectionist and swayed-by-passion-can’t-stand-feeling-controlled-free-spirit. It’s quite a vexing situation, frankly. I mean, my head and my heart are fighting with each other all day long, and it’s super confusing.

So, when I’m coming up with a budget — or a menu plan for the week — I have to satisfy both sides of my personality. This means working some flexibility into my menu and my budget without causing my financial ruin.

I usually start my menu planning process by identifying one or two recipes I want to try in the next few days. These recipes will either be inspired by something I find in Bon Appetit, a craving I’m experiencing, or even by the ingredients I have in my refrigerator that need to be used.

For me, a week doesn’t necessarily need to go from one Sunday to the next because I find that too confining. I might just do it for a three day period and then assess my food (and my money) situation from there. This leaves flexibility to account for new cravings, and I find it makes it easier to stay on budget. Plus, grocery shopping sort of satisfies my need to shop in general, so this way I get to shop a few times a week without buying shoes from Tory that I don’t really need.

Today, I’m craving clam chowder, so I started there. Before making my grocery list, I looked to see if I already had any of the ingredients I will need.

It turns out, I have celery so that was a good start.

Digging around on Pinterest and various blogs today, I also found a copycat recipe for Panera’s cheddar and broccoli soup and decided I wanted to make that as well. The upside here is that both recipes use half and half and bay leaves. I’ve found one of the keys to cutting costs is to make recipes that have overlapping ingredients.

So, step one is identifying the recipes I want to make, preferably recipes with overlapping ingredients.

Step two is to make my grocery list in preparation for hitting the store(s).

Yes, I know there are Christmas lights on my grocery list. My Snoopy Christmas notepad knows no season.

I also like to include the approximate prices for each item to make sure I’m not making too many dishes with expensive ingredients in one week. This is another key to staying on budget in the food department. Let’s call this step three.

You might have noticed I have written a “T” or an “F” next to each price on my list. This notates which store — Trader Joe’s or Food 4 Less — offers better value for the item. I also frequent a high end grocery store in my neighborhood for my deli and fresh fish purchases, but I didn’t need to make any of those this week. I never buy my staples at that store, though, because they are outrageously priced. Paying attention to the prices at various stores is another powerful budgeting tool that can make your money go further for your menu planning. Let’s call this step four.

From here, I kinda sorta let my free spirited side take over. I know I will have items left over from both recipes, and I can get creative. I could use some of the extra potatoes to make baked potatoes with broccoli and cheese because I will have all three of these items left over from making the broccoli and cheese soup as well as the clam chowder. Plus, I also have chili in my freezer in case I want to add that to the potato to make the meal heartier. This is a good option if I need to reign in my spending on food because I don’t need to buy anything new to make this meal.

If I want to splurge a bit and have enough money left in the budget to do so, I could pick up pork chops to make a sour cream and pork chop meal with rice and a side of broccoli. I always keep brown rice in my pantry, I have sour cream left over from a cheesecake I made last week, and I know I’ll have extra broccoli. (The recipe also calls for chicken broth and thyme — both of which I have on hand.)

Another factor to consider in my mid-week menu planning (or any stage in the process for that matter) are the expiration dates on various items in my refrigerator.

No rush on eating this right away. It won’t expire for a while.

Even though I don’t have to use the sour cream right away, I might want to. If the pork chop with sour cream doesn’t sound good to me in a few days, I could pick up some refried beans, grab a slab of cheese, and make bean burritos slathered with sour cream because I already have tortillas and cheese at home. So much cheese…

I usually keep at least four kinds of cheese in my refrigerator because I would die without cheese. For those of you who think cheese will kill me faster than not eating it, you are just wrong. Oh, and yes, that is cheap beer behind the cheese. It’s my football beer.

One of the last keys to my menu planning budget success is to purchase large quantities of items that do not spoil quickly, like canned tomatoes and garlic. I use garlic and tomatoes constantly, so it’s nice to know they’re always handy. They’re also cheaper in bulk.

I’m fending off vampires — and first dates — with this garlic stash.

If you’re more regimented than I am and this amount of flexibility in a menu seems way out of control for you, there are ways to apply the principles of overlapping ingredients, lists, price monitoring, and buying in bulk to help you stay on budget.

If you have other ideas I haven’t though of, let me know!!!

We’re Freezing Our Assets and Our Dinner (Or I Have a Freezer Fetish)

I recently registered for a financial planning course offered at my church. Though I have grown up a lot since my 20s, there’s still room for improvement. Plus, there’s a lot of instability in my industry, and I want to make sure I’m preparing myself properly for it.

Also, Albus was concerned we were spending too much money on lift tickets and not saving enough for retirement.

I think we need to talk about your mutual funds.

My parents are beyond fiscally responsible, and they could have taught me most of what I’m learning in the course, but they’re not patient people. And impatience? It runs in families… so I’m as bad as they are.

So, that’s why I’m paying Dave Ramsey to teach me the things my parents could — because his course was cheaper than the family therapist we’d need if my parents taught me this stuff. (See? I’m already being financially responsible.)

I’m learning all kinds of things I sort of already knew, but the difference is I’m actually putting them into practice willingly. And Albus has gotten into it.

He’s a financial gangster.

Obviously, I need a budget that includes a savings fund, but I need one that doesn’t make me feel too deprived either. I’m not capable of eating the same entrée night after night, but I also can’t justify wasting money by throwing away leftovers.

I’m still working out the kinks in my budget to balance quality of life in the moment with quality of life in the future, but I’m already seeing some great results from my efforts.

One way I’m working around the variety versus spending dilemma in the food category is to make dishes I can freeze. That way if I find myself running low on money in that section of the budget I have tons of options in my freezer that will satisfy my need for variety. I keep the containers small so they represent single serving sizes for a single girl like me. (Not only does freezing make financial sense, but it’s also super helpful to have meals made ahead if you work long hours and come home ravenous like I often do.)

My freezer situation.

My labeling system was inspired by my grandmother. She has a crazy enormous freezer in her basement that is filled with everything from frozen vegetable stock to pot roasts. (Don’t they all? I think that might be a requirement for being a grandmother, actually.) And everything is labeled with masking tape and a sharpie. Personally, I went the painters tape route because I like it better.

So, the freezer is one tool that keeps me on track financially. Menu planning is another. Look out for a post on that soon.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to put on my Ravenclaw pin, grab my owl, and hit up some bars for Halloween in my Hogwarts garb.

Once I get my owl away from the candy gummies, that is….

And, yes, I have a category in my budget for barhopping….