Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cucumber Grape Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

We've been a little bit over the moon about this salad lately. Especially the vinaigrette. It was one of those things where you just throw something together to kind of complement your main dish and it ends up stealing the show!


The husband was doing steaks and we had popped a bottle of red wine....the idea of chopping red grapes into the salad struck me and we ran with it.


The best part is how simple it is. Honestly, five minutes and it's ready, and all the ingredients are things one is likely to have on hand or be easily able to use in other dishes.


Due to my haphazard way of measuring things, this is really easy to size up or down. ;)

Cucumber Grape Salad
  • One handful of greens per person (we used a bag of mixed romaine and radichio, I think.)
  • One sprig of green onions per person.
  • A generous handful or two of quartered red grapes.
  • A goodly amount of sliced and quartered cucumber. 
Toss the above into a serving bowl and drizzle with vinaigrette.

Red Wine Vinaigrette
  • A clove of garlic
  • 1/2 c. vinegar
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. whatever wine you're serving with dinner, or a cooking wine will do
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Throw the clove of garlic into a blender with one of the liquid ingredients and blend till the garlic is finely chopped. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend smooth adjusting to taste. You DO want to blend the garlic first with a smaller amount of liquid, otherwise it's liable to swim around the blender pitcher and totally miss the blades. Don't ask me how I know this.... You will end up with more vinaigrette than you need for just one salad -- but trust me, you won't mind using up the leftovers! It should keep pretty well for at least two-ish weeks; just shake well to reincorporate.

The red grapes in the salad make this vinaigrette the perfect choice, and if you serve it alongside a beef dish your dinner will seem instantly gourmet.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Heart-Shaped Cookie -- No Cutter Required

I learned this neat little trick the other day while making peanut butter cookies. (My husband says this recipe is addictive. I'm usually more of an oatmeal raisin person, but I have to grant that these are good.)

I imagine you could make ANY cookie heart-shaped this way, as long as it's the type that you have to flatten slightly -- that is to say, the type that doesn't flatten into a puddle all by itself while baking.

The trick is this: after flattening a ball of cookie dough with the palm of your hand (or bottom of a jar. Or whatever. You know,) just slice a small triangle out of one side and then pinch the opposite side into a point. You can kind of smooth out the "curves" of the heart with your finger, too, if you like.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Easy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Last week, I did something that's almost unheard of with my current schedule -- I turned on the oven.




Setting aside homework and wedding preparations I actually did something in the kitchen!

These toasted pumpkin seeds turned out amazing. I wasn't planning on them, specifically, but when I carved a pumpkin the other day and the seeds basically just slid right out of the pulp I couldn't resist. I brined them on the counter in salt water for almost two days, tossed them in melted butter and onion powder, and then baked them for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, at 300 degrees. They turned out so crispy and delicious! Much less chewy than what you usually find at the store, and almost effort-free! I mean, if you're carving the pumpkin anyway.....

But November's going to be a rough month. I probably won't be able to do anything fun again until after I graduate. Lame! (If you've been missing this blog, I've been updating fairly regularly at Instagram lately. I hope to officially re-launch this blog post marriage and graduation.)

Serendipitously, I was inspired that day by Nuts.com. You might want to watch their Twitter, because they're going to be tweeting tons of healthy snacking ideas that are perfect for a busy holiday season.

I had never heard of them before, but browsing their website I was super impressed! They seem to sell pretty much everything you could ever want. Have you been looking for organic dried dragon fruit? Search no more!

But in all seriousness, they have SO many options that are perfect for gifting or quick snacking, ranging from conventional dried fruit and nut mixes to a truly vast variety of kosher, gluten-free, organic, and non-GMO offerings as well.

The price point seems appropriate and comparable to what you would find in the grocery store  -- with the difference that Nuts.com is committed to quality in their sourcing and transparency in their labeling, and you can find exactly what you want all in one place. It really looks like a one-stop-shop to me!

Check out their Healthy Snacks page for some inspiration!

P.S. If you already threw out your pumpkin seeds this year and are feeling sad now that you can't roast them.....Guess what? Nuts.com sells raw pumpkin seeds, too. ;)


Disclaimer: No product or direct monetary compensation was received for this post. They MAY include it in their holiday Twitter party, but mainly I just shared this review because they look like a great family-owned company to support and their website made me really hungry. ;)


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

10 Ways to Spend Less on Clothes

I was updating my budgeting spreadsheet for the year and realized that I have spent $172 on clothes this year. It kind of freaked me out. I spent HOW much in three months?? Ugh! Time for a spending freeze! But then I took a step back and realized that, actually, I've done a pretty darn good job at spending wisely. That $172 brought home a whopping 24 items -- so I spent an average of just $7.17 per item! How is this possible?

MY HISTORY IN NOT SPENDING MONEY ON CLOTHES. LIKE EVER.

 

In years past, I have had an extremist approach to clothes budgeting, purchasing new items only when they were a decent price (which in my mind is usually less than $10) and my wardrobe had a strong and specific need for a particular piece. If, on a whim, I decided I wanted an apple green cardigan to wear over a certain shirt, I would scour the internet and thrift stores for months and only buy once I had found the perfect one at the perfect price. If my jeans had trendy looking holes, they earned them through long lives of hard work, by golly! I wore clothes until they were no longer fit to be worn, pretty much. I'm sure certain of my acquaintances would argue that I still do. . .

However, my spending habits have loosened up a little in the past year -- reason: for better or for worse, it's because I have this super awesome boyfriend who seems to enjoy the "classy and well-kept" look better than the "grunge/I don't care" look. Combine this new motivation to look "nice" with some very legitimate wardrobe needs (socks and underwear. You can only put them off so long,) and I have spent the last few months on some very specific searches. . .

WANTED:

 

- A pair of summer sandals that looks nice but are also supportive and fit for a decent amount of walking.
- Pants! A couple pairs of jeans, at least another pair of casual shorts or capris, and another pair or two of workout shorts or capris.
- A blue shirt to pair with a certain white skirt.
- A maxi skirt, to scratch this itch I've had to jump on the maxi skirt trend.
- Swim cover ups
- Shirts in a greater variety of colors. Do you ever look in your closet and realize you have, like, fifteen purple sweaters and that's all? Because that's like the story of my life. For awhile all my shirts were blue, and now they're all purple. It's weird.
- A sports bra. A tricky proposition if you're as tricky a size as I am.
- Oh yeah, and socks and underwear.

HOW TO DO A TOTAL WARDROBE REFRESH ON THE CHEAP

Here are some of the principles I kept in mind as I searched.

  1. Know when to go for quality rather than price. Shoes are turning into my non-negotiable here. Ten years of food service and retail has been tough on my knees, and supportive shoes are an absolute must.
  2. Know when to go for new rather than used. This can be pretty subjective, but things I prefer not to buy used are shoes, socks, and underwear, obviously, for the gross factor! I also steer away from used workout clothes and white shirts. I don't know about you, but my white shirts turn grey fast enough without a head start from anyone else's use.
  3. Look for specific pieces in specific colors or styles. Idle browsing can easily send you home with things you don't need that don't really pair well with anything else in your closet. Confession: I probably bought more shirts than I really needed to. I was browsing. It is true.
  4. Have a price limit in your head for every type of clothing you're looking for. Decide ahead of time what it's reasonable for you to spend on a shirt, or pants, or dress. Looking at tons of clothes at prices like $39.99 can be really desensitizing. You may begin to think to yourself that $24.99 is a good price for a tank-top, comparatively. . . .But then you can jerk yourself back to reality: "Dude, no. I was going to spend no more than $9 on a tank top. This one's almost three times that"
  5. Shop used first. Whenever reasonable, hit the thrift stores to fill holes in your wardrobe BEFORE browsing new items. If you can fill some holes with $5 used items, you'll end up spending MUCH less than if you had bought everything new  even at cheaper locations like Target or TJ-Maxx.
  6. However, for the items you WON'T buy used, shop the cheaper "new" stores first, like Target, Walmart, or off-price retailers like TJ-Maxx and Ross. Off-price retailers are an especially good source for finding high quality items at reasonable prices (like shoes!!); you just have to be ready to sort through the junky stuff that's being offered at the same price.
  7. Do your research. If you're looking for a specific item, you can browse a ton of stores online in a fraction of the time it would take to browse their brick-and-mortar counterparts. This is a good way to compare prices and find exactly what you want with greater efficiency. To avoid shipping, you may be able to ship site-to-store for free. Or maybe the item's already available at your local store; most websites allow you to check individual store inventories for the availability of what you're looking at.
  8. Consider reward points. If you find you're going to purchase multiple items at a certain store, see if any of your credit cards offer bigger cash back for purchasing online. If you're a member of Swagbucks or another reward point, purchasing online through that platform may earn you extra reward points. If you were going to purchase the items anyway, and in a large enough quantity to score free shipping, you might as well maximize the cash back you can receive! I used my Discover card AND shopped through Swagbucks Shop & Earn Platform when applicable. Now I have reward points to put towards future Amazon purchases of necessities....like textbooks. (Gak.)
  9. Do not neglect the humble coupon code. When purchasing online, always check to see if you can get 10% off by registering for promotional e-mails; always check other sites like RetailMeNot or CouponChief to see if there's other deals lurking out there that aren't readily apparent. At the very least, it's often possible to find a code for free shipping.
  10. Have in mind the total amount you're willing or able to spend. I kind of failed here -- I was thinking I'd try to cap my purchases around $100 not counting shoes, but I didn't keep very good track of what I was spending as I spent it, and thus, I overshot my limit somewhat. Even if you don't stick to your budget, chances are you'll STILL end up spending less just by having one in mind than by going out without one!


WHAT I ENDED UP PROCURING:

 

- An amazing pair of Cliffs sandals for $24.99 at TJ-Maxx
- 2 pairs of jeans, including a pair of like-new Seven for All Mankind that was only $5.99 at Savers--score!
- A pair of khaki shorts and a pair of grey running shorts totaling about $10.
- Scored the blue shirt!
- After much deliberation, found an aqua colored maxi skirt. It was $25. :(
- Two swim cover-ups -- one, an iffy $5 one on Amazon shipping from China, and the other a neutral colored one from Walmart that was, I think, $14. . .
- LOTS of shirts in a pretty decent variety of styles from dressy to casual, including two new workout shirts and two basic white tanks/camis which were greatly needed. They all were less than $5 each at thrift stores with the exception of the two white tanks which were new from Target and about $12, I think.
- A sports bra for about $8 on clearance at TJ-Maxx.
- And yep, the socks and underwear, too.

All in all, I have ended up with 24 new articles of clothing, averaging $7.17 per item. And if we take out the two most expensive (the shoes and skirt were each $25), the total of $122 spread over 22 items averages just $5.55 each.

So yes, I spent more than I'm used to, and more than I intended. . . But on the whole, I am quite satisfied with all my purchases and their respective prices.

The least satisfying purchase was the maxi skirt. I was hoping for one that could be worn with black OR brown sandals, was of a sturdy material, and a fun print. I ended up getting a solid colored aqua one which I chose for the reviews which said it was of a heavier material. It's really thin, though, and I might as well have gone with the $8 skirt with the bad reviews instead of this $25 with good ones.  Lesson: embracing trends is often not as satisfying as you think it will be; if you really want to indulge, go for cheap.

What are your best saving tips when it comes to fashion?






Monday, February 16, 2015

Starting a Blog Income Report and other news.

It is my goal to get back into the blogging swing of things and bring you lots of great new content about frugal living, home-making, cleaning, and the works.

But I'll be honest -- it's a struggle at the moment. As some of you may know, I'm currently working on a BBA in Accounting (getting some money-managing cred!) and I will graduate this December. HOWEVER, to graduate on time, I'm taking a pretty heavy course load. 18 credits this semester, 16 over the summer, and between 12-16 this fall (have to double check how many electives I have left.) And I'm still working 25 hours a week as your friendly neighborhood barista.

(Yes, in order to bring this blog post to you I am procrastinating on something else. Heh.)

In case you're curious, though, here's what I've got brewing (barista pun, get it?) for the future of Finely Ground....

Upcoming Projects
  • I'd like to compile great DIY cleaning secrets into an e-book -- including some that have already been posted here and some extras! This may involve printables of some of the more popular content, like that Spring Cleaning Checklist.
  • Actually, I've made a prototype printer friendly version of that one already, so hit me up if you want an advance copy!
  • Maybe a series on launching and monetizing a blog -- because at the moment mine's providing me with some mostly passive income, and who doesn't want passive income? What do you think? Something you'd be interesting in reading?
  • Cat Litter. So many choices. I'm currently running a trial of about 8 different brands of clumping (sift-able) litter, and soon I'll be able to give you all the dirt on what's the most budget-friendly, which wins odor control for small spaces, and which ones will end up tracked all over your house. Stay tuned! I only have about two weeks of trialing left.
  • I may need to discover the secrets of budget wedding event planning soon, too. ;) Shh!
  • But as for today.....Doing blog income reports is trendy right and I'm finding them so interesting to read. Just how DO regular people like you and me work their way up to earning $20,000/month off their blogs???! So I'm going to put a beginner's blogging spin on this idea, and show you what "starting small" looks like. And hopefully you'll be able to watch the income of this blog grow and learn from what works for me!
Show Me Da Money!

At the beginning of this year I got more serious about record-keeping. I made $579 on this blog last year -- yeah, small potatoes -- and I'd really like to see it grow. I'm taking a class in income tax accounting this semester, and it's helped and inspired me to be more organized about how I keep track of my freelance finances.

I created a spreadsheet of t-accounts and journal entries, and as I'm a cash-basis tax payer, I'm going to record here my cash-basis blog earnings and expenses with a few summaries about traffic and the performance of key projects.

Without further ado, here's what happened at Finely Ground during January 2015.

Traffic Stats

  • 34,525 page views
  • Social Sharing drove 44% of those page views, and Pinterest in particular was responsible for 75% of that traffic.
  • Most of the search terms that brought people to Finely Ground had to do with cleaning (not surprised!) but I noticed that my post on getting glasses without vision insurance is also  commonly searched! Awesome! That means this information is helping people.
  • Weirdest search query: "Accidentally inhaled Ajax." Yikes, dude. I hope you're okay.

Events

  • The Lush Decor Giveaway! It was actually the first giveaway I've hosted here, and I wanted to make sure it went well. I was pretty satisfied with its performance. During the week it was live it received over 1000 views and at least 370 unique entrants.
  • Connected to this event, I did my first foray into paying for advertising. I ran a facebook ad which drove a lot of engagement and new "likes" (120!) to Finely Ground's page but not a ton of clickthrough, a pinterest promoted pin which received a lot of impressions but not a lot of click-through, and submitted to various free and paid giveaway directories -- the one that sent the most traffic to my site was Giveaway Promote, so I'm going to tuck that one away as a future resource.
  • In prep for the giveaway, I cleaned up the sidebar here a little, and added a new section for "recent posts" -- I used to just have one for "popular posts." I've found it challenging to direct traffic to my newer posts, though. The older established and popular ones tend to continue to receive more views than anything new I post, so I need to figure out how to improve engagement and get those readers of my old posts to stick around longer.

Revenue

  •  $48.28 - Amazon Affiliate Program (the deposit of November's revenue.)

Expenses

  • $25.99 - Advertising Expenses
Most blogger income reports have lists of different revenue and expense sources about a mile long. Clearly, I need to work on diversifying!

Net Income: $22.29

Woot woot! Don't spend it all in one place, self.

Next month's report should be a little more interesting because some non-cash compensation will hit the books.

Random tax fact -- did you know if you barter services or receive free product, you're supposed to recognize income for its fair value??