Weekend In a French Kitchen

Daniel Boulud & Mimi Thorisson

Guys. I’ve lost my mind.

Evidence: I’ve started a three-year project that I’m 25% in charge of.

Wait…I already did that when we bought our house. Except I’m 50% in charge of that.

Then…I did it again when we had a baby. Except that’s a 39372847923 year project that I’m 100% in charge of.

Huh. Turns out I’m not as crazy as I thought. Or am I? Never mind. That’s probably a question for a professional.

(Grammar note: Dangling prepositions. About twenty-three Diane Chambers lines just came to mind.)

ANYWAY. This is definitely going to be the most gastronomically satisfying project of the three, because, along with my mom and two of our lovely foodie friends, I’m going to be cooking through not one, but two French cookbooks. One recipe a week out of each until every single recipe has been cooked. Each weekend we’ll each be posting on our blogs about the dishes that were assigned for that week, so tune in here to see the goodies going down at our house.

More than that though, we’re looking for other home cooks to join us! You know you want to. Because French food is best food. We’re going through Daniel Boulud & Dorie Greenspan’s Cafe Boulud Cookbook and Mimi Thorisson’s A Kitchen In France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse (please explain to me what about that doesn’t sound utterly idyllic and enviable). These are gorgeous cookbooks that thoroughly celebrate seasonal ingredients, the joy of cooking, and French tradition. I’m coming up with the recipe schedule, so I’ve been up to my elbows in these books and I can confidently say that there’s something for everyone!

Head over to our site, check it out (then FAQs page is super helpful), then click the “join” tab to cook along with us.

This is going to be seriously delicious. You should come along.

While you’re at it, go check out the other ladies blogs too! They’re the Three French Hens and I’m their Chickadee  🙂

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Also, we’re having a giveaway! Enter to win one of three sets of BOTH cookbooks! That’s huge guys. Huge. I’m still working on getting that part linked to my blog, so be sure to enter it over at Alice, Christy, or Tammy’s blogs!

Note: The photo at the top is of the authors Daniel Boulud and Mimi Thorisson. Not our two foodie friends. If M. Boulud and Mdm. Thorisson were my foodie friends, I think I’d just lose it and die.


Money Talk: Little Ways We Stay In Budget

I don’t know about you, but I’m simultaneously militaristic about sticking to our budget and constantly prone to justifying different splurges. Here are a few ways we avoid that and stick to our budget!

1. Put a limit on the cost of clothing items.

Honestly, this is really difficult for me, because when I like something I really really like it…like really. And I’m a bargain hunter. And I’ve never been a great thrifter, which is where a bunch of great deals are.  And I already have a policy that if I am shopping for clothes and find something I like, I decide whether or not I can live without it. If I can walk away from it and not have my entire day affected, I do. If I can’t do that and it’s over what I’m comfortable spending without some extra thought, I put it on hold and see I feel the same way the following day. If I do: SPLURGE. If I don’t: it stays at the store. Living within walking distance from the mall and Target helps not at all in this arena.

But with all the changes post-baby, I’ve found self-control to be so hard! Part of me is in building-an-entirely-new-wardrobe mode, and the other part of me lives in the budget spreadsheet. That part also has my husband’s voice narrating sure-to-be-coming conversations…”You spent HOW much on that?!” 

So I’ve instituted a new rule: Nolan and I have limits on the price we can spend on each item. Mine is $15. Nolan’s is $3.50. I’m willing to break this from time to time for a special and/or high quality item, or in emergencies, but generally this is the rule. And actually, I’ve found a lot of great deals for Nolan at or below his price, even new things!

2. Wash on cold.

This seems silly, I know. But we pay all the utilities for a house of four adults and a baby (our wonderful tenants downstairs have utilities wrapped into their rent, but we try to save as much of that as possible, so this is where we are), and anything we do to cut down on the resources we use actually makes a difference in our utilities bills. So:
– we wash laundry once a week.
– everything but our whites gets washed on cold so that we don’t use the gas to heat the water.
– we use the natural light from our windows as much as we can and keep the lamps off in the evening until it just doesn’t make sense anymore.
– I use my crockpot at least twice a week because for serious. So. Little. Energy.
When opportunity or need arises, it’s also helpful to purchase Energy Star rated appliances for your home. While we’re not necessarily full-blown tree huggers around here, we do treat the world like a public restroom: go in, feel comfortable, take care of your business, and leave it better off than you found it. Energy Star appliances are good for the environment and good for your utility bills, so it’s a win-win.

3. Employ local thrift stores.

I’m a Goodwill junkie (when it comes to anything but clothes…I’m working on it, my best friend is going to give me lessons) and I get so excited about different finds. So many reasons to frequent thrift stores, not the least of which is their prices! Baskets, table linens, baby towels, the list of things that are available goes on and on. For example, I recently got a couple frames at Goodwill for $0.99 each. I used leftover mats from equally sized frames I’d used for another purpose, popped some scrap fabric in there, photocopied some of my great-grandmother’s recipes, and now they’re hanging in my kitchen. Literally a $2 project, and they’re so special! I’ll post a picture soon. I can hyperlink, why can’t I post a picture??

4. Beans.

Honestly, beans aren’t all that exciting on their own, but salt-soak those suckers and toss some bacon in there and you’ve got a winning dinner for pennies. Nobody will mind that you’re serving them up their weight in beans for dinner because they’re just that good. From Italian white bean soup, to Mexican black bean soup, to Cajun red beans and rice, the flavors can vary so much. When it comes to the grocery budget, beans are my saving grace. I know too much about foods and where they come from to skimp on the quality of produce, meat, and dairy products (so…basically all of our eats), and it adds up, so eating meat at every single meal isn’t an option. Pop a bean recipe on your next meal plan and add up how much it costs you to make it, then send me a thank you note. I’ll post some great bean recipes soon. Because I CAN hyperlink.

5. …on that note: fish.

I know you think that seafood is too expensive. I know you think it’s tricky to cook. I know the little bones are annoying and you just don’t want to deal with them for heaven’s sake. There are solutions for all of these things, especially here on the west coast where we have a plethora of wild domestic seafood to choose from. Instead of wild Alaskan halibut, eat Pacific cod. Instead of trying to grill delicate filets, start with baking them. Instead of picking through little bones, ask your fishmonger to debone your filets, or get a pair of boning tweezers and take them out yourself. Instead of assuming that all farmed fish is going to give you cancer (which is not a terrible assumption, let’s be real, but it might be slightly misguided) talk to your fishmonger about the sources of the fish they carry (example: it’s illegal to sell wild-caught trout in the States, so my fishmonger sells trout from a farm in Idaho that raises the fish as organically and naturally as possible, just as if they were in the wild. “Wild” farmed fish for $6.99/lb.).

6. Comparison shopping.

I have a baby, so it’s not like I go around to fourteen different grocery stores to find the absolute bottom price for an organic jalapeño, but I do make mental notes about how much things cost at different places and unless I’m at the “Best Price” store for a particular item, I don’t buy it. Unless I’ll die without it. Then I buy it. I’m actually putting together a spreadsheet with all the items we buy and how much they cost at the different stores we frequent to see if I’m right about purchasing things where I do. However, I expect this endeavor to take most of the remainder of my life, so we’ll see if it ever helps.

7. Sell stuff.

Remember the Space post? No? It’s cool, I’m not offended that you didn’t read it. But all that stuff I wanted to do to create space in my life after we returned to England…it’s happening. Because I’m being proactive and making it happen. And since it takes a little bit of money, it’s happening because a rug that we took to a consignment store sold, and we got half of the sale price. Generally we wouldn’t be super satisfied with half of the sale price, we’d want ALL OF THE MONIES, but Kyle’s had these rugs for as long as I’ve been out of high school and they just weren’t going into our house. So many rugs. So many colors. So not going in our house. And do you know how hard it is to sell a RUG on Craigslist?? Too hard, cowboy. Consignment stores are awesome for not all of the things, but a lot of the things. One of those things is rugs. By selling stuff you don’t need/use/want anymore, you can generate some extra money to either save or use for stuff that’s not strictly in your budget right now. Consignment stores, Craigslist, OfferUp, eBay…these places are great for selling just about anything. We’ve sold so many things on Craigslist. I’ve also recently begun to use Poshmark, an app for selling clothes. I really like it! The company takes 15-20% of the sale price and that helps to pay for the shipping. Once an item sells, all you have to do is package it up, print out the shipping label, and mail it off. SO EASY. If I can do it, anybody can. That’s not a joke.

8. DIY

You have a white lamp, but that corner of the room needs a pick-me-up. Paint it! You have an empty wall, but a limited budget for artwork. Send some of your photos to a professional printer, get some appropriately sized Goodwill frames, spruce them up, and ten dollars later you have a fantastic display that has great personal meaning for you. Your family goes through applesauce like water, and at $2.99/jar it eats into your grocery budget a bit. Can your own! These are simple little things that do take some time, but they’ll save you plenty of money in the long run.

Do you have any great, sneaky, money-saving tactics you use to master your budget?

Traveling With Baby: What To Pack and What To Leave At Home

While we were in Europe there were definitely some things we learned about packing for a big trip with a baby! Give this list a look over and see what you think.

What To Pack

Don’t leave home without these things!

1. Travel-size Stain Remover

This really saved us! I purchased a small baby stain remover bottle as I walked by it in the checkout line one day before we left, but once that’s gone I think I’ll just fill a small empty spray bottle from Target with the stain remover we use at home. There were a few times that I think we would have had to toss his clothes if we hadn’t had this little gem with us!

2. Travel-size Squeezer Bottle Of Dish Soap

This. Has. Saved us! Unfortunately it didn’t last for the length of our trip, I should have filled the bottle more, but it’s been immensely helpful to have been able to wash bottles in the airport, a city lunch spot or two, and our hotel room! I’m going to be keeping it in the diaper bag from now on so I can wash bottles while we’re gone for a day out. (Turns out, they make little bottles of dish soap just for this purpose! I just got an itty bottle from Target, which worked great for us.)

3. Sick Baby Kit

You never know when baby’s going to wake up with a runny nose or a little fever, so be prepared! Our Sick Baby Kit has our nose sucker, thermometer, baby tylenol, baby ibuprofen, gas drops, medicine syringes, homeopathics, homeopathic teething tablets, baby saline drops, baby vapor rub, and instant pedialyte (not recommended for babies under one year, but our boy doesn’t seem to mind as long as we water it down a bit more than the instructions direct…if he drinks it at all, which is not usually).

4. Small Travel Mug

To be honest, we’ve only used this a handful of times, but when we’ve needed it we’ve *really* needed it! In our 8 oz. mug, hot water has stayed hot (or hot enough) for about two hours, and all but one time that’s been exactly what we’ve needed. We made bottles on a ferry boat in Portsmouth, on the tube, and several times in the car.

5. Two Diaper Changing Pads

This has been hugely helpful. At home, of course, we have the changing table and keep the changing pad in the diaper bag. Hotel rooms, unfortunately, don’t come equipped with changing tables, so instead we’ve been putting our second changing pad on our bed then folding and taking it off when we’re done. We don’t have to remember to put it back in the diaper bag before we go anywhere, and Nolan knows what’s going down once we pull out the changing pad. Best thing: and extra pad takes up basically zero extra space!

What To Leave At Home

Real talk: this is going to be hard. Being away from the comfort and predictability of your own home can be daunting when you’re traveling with baby! It’s totally natural to want to be as prepared as possible for whatever comes your way, but your trip is going to be much better if you aren’t lugging about a bunch of things you don’t actually need or won’t even use. Here are our tips.

1. Toys

We brought way too many toys with us to England! The thing about kids is that, while they do like toys, they actually like everything and don’t really have any innate metric to determine whether a particular object is a “toy” or not. For example, Nolan’s favorite playthings here have been the closed toilet (which he likes to drum on), empty two-liter water bottles (which he likes to bop everything with, including mama and daddy), and empty food containers that we’ve washed out (great for keeping him occupied after he’s done eating but we aren’t yet, as well as for using as bath toys). He’s also a fan of curtains and shoes. Yes, he’s played with the toys we’ve brought, but he certainly doesn’t need the truckload that I insisted on packing! Bring a few easily portable favorites that fit in the diaper bag, and leave the rest at home.

2. Crib Sheets

Everybody says that if you’re going to be staying in a hotel with the hotel’s crib, bring your own baby sheets. Let’s be real here, if the hotel sheets are good enough for you, they’re good enough for your baby. The way they wash hotel sheets, they absolutely kill all of the nasties that get tied up in sheets (these people are experts), and who wants to unmake the crib every time you anticipate that housekeeping might pop in so that they don’t take your crib sheet out with all the other dirty laundry? Just don’t sweat it and leave that space in your suitcase for something useful.

3. Baby Monitor 

Unless you’re staying in an apartment, house, or a large hotel suite where the baby has his own space, you might as well leave this at home. We used it maybe three times, and we honestly really didn’t need it the times we used it.

What are your best packing for baby tips?