Sunday, February 28, 2010

Something fun for me!

I have been trying to be careful about shopping--because we are watching our budget--but mostly because we already have TOO MUCH STUFF. I have varying levels of success at this, but when ever TD or I get something new, we put at least 1--preferably 2--things in the donation basket. However, I have been in the market for shoes that are better for my feel (danskos/birkenstocks/earth) for a while.
I got these earth shoes last summer and I adore them. They are incredibly comfortable and are one of the only shoes that have never given me blisters. And I got them for about 60% off on But since TD is almost a foot taller than me, I'd love to have some supportive, comfy, good looking shoes with at least a 2 inch heel. I'd looked at Dansko clogs for a while, but they are $$. And then I saw these babies--they meet all my criteria, and then some! I flipped over the color and the (faux) snakeskin accent. Awesome!
When I did a search for them, it turns out Sierra Trading Post has them on sale. So needless to say, I got something fun for me. Now I just have to figure out which pair of shoes will be going in the donation pile to make room for these...

Menu Planning

The main reason TD and I manage to eat at home so often is that I plan out our menus in advance for the entire week (sometimes two!). I keep a calendar in my outlook email and put the menu for every night of the week. That way I can refer back, I usually try not to repeat things within a month, unless its one of our favorites (bean burritos I'm looking at you!)

When TD moved in, I wasn't sure how he would feel about eating vegetarian meals. He has taken to it very well with no complaints! Yay! Since we both are very happy meat-eaters, we do that about half the time. Other than an occasional rotisserie chicken when I'm feeling lazy, we don't buy ANY meat at the store. Everything we eat is wild game from my family's ranch in central Texas, or from my father's and brother's escapades in Alaska. Lately we have been eating Dall Ram from Alaska. We are very lucky to have this great source of healthy, eco-friendly meat available to us. 

Normally I plan meals and make a list on Thursday or Friday, and we go shopping over the weekend. So, what are we eating this week?
  • M: TD is out of town, I will eat MORE beans and rice
  • T: This is TD's birthday and I have a work dinner event. FAIL! but there will be carrot cake with cream cheese icing. (TD will likely eat a frozen chicken patty--sad)
  • W: yellow daal with greens and curried potatoes
  • Th: Fritatta with red peppers, cheese, and smoked turkey plus sauteed greens
  • F: TD's big birthday dinner to Neptune Oyster!!! We rarely eat out at fancy places these days, so we are really stoked for this!! I may only eat raw shellfish for my entire meal...see above for what we are in store for. Happy Birthday TD!!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Home sweet home

As I mentioned previously, we are selling the condo that I have lived in for 2 years (with TD for 1). Its been a short period of time to own, but as we know that we will be leaving the Boston area with no plans to return, now seemed like the time to sell. We initially thought of renting the house out for a few years, but decided we wanted to avoid being absentee landlords if we could help it.

I called the realtor who had helped me buy the house, and within a week she was showing it to other agents, and 5 days later we had a full price offer. So, we probably could have asked for a little more (you were right Dad!), but TD and I are happy that we won't have to keep our house in showing condition for much longer. We are naturally very neat and decluttered, but the thought of having strangers walking through your house kicks it up another notch. Plus it will be nice to pull my vacuum back out and put the heater back in the bathroom.

Everything is falling into place, including the home inspection; the last hurdle is for the buyer to secure her mortgage funding. This should happen April 1 and we will close on June 1. So, pretty soon I will have to start calling moving companies...ugh. It feels like we just finished unpacking Tom's stuff. Moving a few more times is probably in the cards for us for the next couple of years, so I just have to suck it up. Ah, the glamorous life of two baby academics! I absolutely LOVE this place, though I admit it is a little small for 2 people, it is working really well for us right now.

Plus, the kitchen is pretty much my dream kitchen, since we installed a dishwasher in November. Well I would add an induction or gas range and heavy duty exhaust hood, but that's it. I love having drawers rather than cabinets and the open shelving has really grown on me. I really love how we have the house decorated, it really feels like us. So I'm going to be sad to leave, but excited to set up our new home in __TBD__. In the meantime, here are a few more pics of our current place.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Personal Finance

Now that I have a job where I make (a little) money, I've become really interested in Personal Finance and money management. Since I am getting married in a couple of months, I've been thinking a lot about finances and how two people manage money together.

I feel lucky that TD is relatively frugal like me. That isn't to say that both of us don't like nice (expensive) things. If money was no object we'd eat out several nights a week and would travel a lot more and if TD had his way we'd have a lot more land rovers. But our funds aren't unlimited, so we eat at home mostly and save our pennies!

Some of the shared financial goals that we have are owning a house, paying for all (or most) of our children's college, and being able to retire securely and early. How are we going to meet these goals?

Down Payment
I currently own my condo and when we sell it, we will have a good chunk of change towards purchasing a house together. However, the down payment that we will need for a house will probably be at least 30% more, so this is something we need to work on saving for. My goal is to get the house paid off as quickly as possible, something that hopefully we can do with a 15 year mortgage and contributing extra payments towards the principal each year.

Thank fully little Frugal Ecologists are still likely several years off, so this isn't an immediate need for this. I am hoping that we will be able to set aside 5% of our combined income each month to make this happen. TD and I both received lots of help from our parents for college (in addition to scholarships) such that we didn't need to work during the school year and both graduated with no educational debt. This was a great gift that helped us get ahead, and we hope we can do the same for our kids someday. If we had to start today we would go with a 529 plan.

This is the big one for both of us. Since we both went to grad school to get PhD's, and TD also has a Master's degree, I feel like we are behind in the retirement game. I just recently became eligible to participate in a 403(b) plan but am not eligible for employer matching. TD doesn't have any work sponsored retirement plan. We both have Roth IRA's that we contribute to, though contributions have been lower since we have been in school. Our goal is to contribute the maximum to our Roth IRA's and 15% of our paycheck to an employee sponsored plan. I was able to accomplish this last year (actually I contributed 20%), but with us living off one salary until TD graduates, all we can do is 7% into the 403(b). We are both REALLY looking forward to having real, permanent jobs where we can make full retirement contributions a reality. For 2009 I contributed $2500 to my IRA, I am debating whether to bump my contribution up to the $5000 max, or keep the extra money in the Emergency Fund. I have until April 15 to decide.

Which brings me to .... Emergency Fund!
The Motley Fool has a nice intro into emergency funds.

This is a relatively new idea to me. I mean, I always knew it was good to have savings for a rainy day. But I just recently have looked at this in terms of a designated number of months of reserve to have in a special account. I have an ING Direct account which I have been happy with (though the interest rate keeps dropping...grrr) and which I try to add to every month. The goal for TD and I is to have $30K in a combination of savings, laddered CDs or savings bonds. I like TIPS or I-bonds because they are inflation protected. My goal for 2010 is to have $11000 in this account. We are on track to meet this goal as we have $7265 right now, and I'll contribute my full tax refund, which will bring us close to $10K.

In a future post I'll talk about day-to-day budgeting and how TD and I plan to combine our finances.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sausage Making

Earlier this month my pal AK headed up to NYC for a cooking weekend. We have a long history of fun (and often ambitious) meat-related cooking. On tap for the weekend was starting some home-cured pancetta and making sausage.

Our plan was to make the pancetta following the recipe and instructions on Menu in Progress, but quickly realized that since TD and I were heading out of town, we wouldn't be able to let it cure properly. So that will have to wait for another time. So we were left with SAUSAGE!

Homemade sausage is one of my favorite cooking projects because it gives you a lot of satisfaction for a (relatively) small amount of work. AK and are getting to be pros and we finished in just a couple of hours, minus chilling time.

We use a kitchen aid Grinder attachment with sausage stuffer. In the past, we have used a heavy duty grinder from Cabela's. The kitchen aid is great for small amounts. We made 9 lbs without trouble. The key is to keep your meat very cold. Winter in Boston is much better for this than summer in the central valley!

We made 3 types of sausage--Boerwors, Merguez, and Chorizo--all stuffed into pork casings. We had made Boerwors before and both remembered liking it (although it was our least favorite of the 3). The merguez and chorizo were amazing. This sausage is so good, its really best eaten plain, but the chorizo was great in a Paella we had last week. For all recipes we grind meat, mix in spices, then let chill for at least 3 hours before stuffing in casings. Unfortunately I don't have the Boerwors recipe, as it is in a super secret Excel spreadsheet on AK's computer. I am pretty excited that we received a grinder and stuffer of our very own for a wedding present. I think there is a lot more sausage making in my future!

Homemade Merguez (from NY Times, we tripled the recipe)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped; more for serving
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Spanish Chorizo from SausageMania
Ground pork: 1 lb.
Coarse salt: 1/2 tablespoon
Garlic, crushed or finely chopped: 1.5 cloves
Ground nutmeg: 0.4 teaspoon
Brown sugar: 0.8 tablespoon
Smoked paprika : 0.8 tablespoon
Aleppo pepper: 0.8 tablespoon

Let the Good Times Roll!

TD and I had a brief but action packed trip to Baton Rouge, LA over President's Day/Mardi Gras/Valentine's Day weekend to attend the wedding of one of TD's college roommates. It was a lot of fun as TD did his masters at LSU so we got to revisit some of his old haunts. The rehearsal dinner was held in the LSU Natural Science museum, which is TD's old department, unfortunately we didn't get any pictures of that. The wedding was a blast and the bride and groom really knew how to throw a great party. (The also know how to dress, the bride had on a feathered dress and the groom had custom hot pink Nikes) They had a 9 am (!!) ceremony followed by brunch, cocktails and dancing, which finished up in time for all of us to attend the Spanish Town Parade. I had never been to Mardi Gras before and it was all new to me! So MANY Beads!! (Who pays for all of them I wonder?) TD and I had a great time and we're looking forward to seeing Jon and Megan at our wedding in April.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My first post

I've been reading blogs for a while and finally decided to make one of my own. TD is out of town this week, and the resulting free time I have might also have something to do with it. I am hoping to be able to keep track of my adventures in wedding planning, applying for faculty and other permanent jobs, and figuring out where the heck TD and I are going to live after June 1st, plus some fun travel to Costa Rica and Brazil. I am also hoping to keep track of my net worth and savings. Hopefully this will be fun! With that I will leave you with my favorite frugal recipe -- its what I am eating for dinner all week while TD is away. I love it--and its one of the cheapest meals you can make!


Frugal Beans
1 lb dried beans (I used half pinto/half black)
1 T ground cumin or cumin seeds
2 T chili powder
1 T salt
4 cloves garlic or 1 T granulated garlic
1 chipotle in adobo*

Pick through beans for rocks or damaged beans. Put beans in pot and cover with 2 inches cold water. Bring to a boil for 10 min, then turn off heat and let soak for 1 hour. (I often do this before I leave for work, and finish the rest when I get home) Drain and rinse beans under cold water. Add cold water to cover by 1 inch and return pan to stove. Add spices and simmer on medium/low for 1.5 hours stirring every half hour. Watch for sticking, if liquid becomes too reduced, add water as needed. When beans are fork tender, serve with brown rice, homemade corn bread or tortillas and top with fresh cilantro, chopped tomato and avocado.

*Spicy! But adds a great smoky flavor. They come in a small can, and you can freeze the extras for next time.