The Discountess Has Left the Building

Apologies for not posting. I’ve been busy hanging out here.

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In short, St. John is amazing. Details to come when I return next week.

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Packing for Paradise

T-minus 48 hours until I take off for my Caribbean vacation. And. I. Can. Not. Wait. I’m so excited to go that I’m already thinking about what to bring. This is a big deal for me, because while I love to travel, I hate to pack. I end up bringing everything under the sun, and throw in a sweater at the last minute for good measure.

This time, I’m trying to take a different approach, by getting organized and packing light. Our flight goes through Miami, and we only have an hour layover on the way there. I don’t want to check a bag because a) I don’t trust the airlines to not miss the connection with such a small window of time and b) they charge you $25 to check a bag in the first place.  For these reasons, I will be taking a carry on, and putting that $25 toward a massage on the island. Yesssssss!

Anyway, I was searching Pinterest for packing ideas, and I came across this handy-dandy packing chart from Doe and Thistle. According to my cousin (who also happens to live on the island), St. John is a very casual place. He said all you need is shorts, tops, and bathing suits, so this list is right on the mark.

I’m going to attempt to replicate this for my 6 day beach vacation (minus the cocktail dress). Other things I will not be bringing include a hair dryer, anything made of wool, and an umbrella because it’s not going to rain. Period.

Any other travel light tips for me? I can use all the help I can get!

Chicken Meatball and Orzo Soup

I’m getting ready for my Caribbean vacation this week. I leave on Thursday – woo hoo! Anyway, I’m attempting some money-saving and healthy eating this week, so I can afford to eat in St. John AND look good while doing it.

I found this recipe in an old Food and Wine that I’d forgotten to throw away. I decided to go through the magazine one more time before getting rid of it, and this little gem emerged. Not only did it look easy and healthy, but I owned most of the required ingredients. Double score!

I made this soup yesterday, and it will be starring in my lunches this week. It’s a soup triple threat–healthy, easy, and delicious. Here’s the recipe.

Chicken meatball and orzo soup

1 cup orzo
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
6 cups chicken broth
1 pound fresh chicken sausage (you can choose any kind. I did roasted red pepper and garlic), cut off the casings and divide the meat into 1-inch meatballs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
One bunch of red swiss chard cut into bite size pieces (the original recipe calls for a 5-ounce bag baby spinach, but I happened to have the chard on hand).

Cook the orzo in salted, boiling water until it’s al dente. Drain and rinse the orzo under cold water until it cools.

In a another soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the chicken meatballs and cook over medium high heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.

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Transfer the meatballs to a plate. Add the chopped garlic to the pot and cook over moderate heat until lightly golden, about 1 minute. Add the broth, bring to a simmer, and season with salt and pepper. Add the meatballs to the broth and simmer until they are cooked through, about 3 minutes.

Add the chard and cooled orzo to the simmering broth and cook, stirring, until the chard is wilted and the soup is piping hot, about 1 minute.

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Ladle the soup into bowls and serve. And, this is what the end result looks like.

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The recipe makes about 4 servings. Here’s the budget breakdown.

Chicken Sausage – $5.19 (x2)
Orzo – $0.99
Supplemental chicken broth – $0.99
Chard, garlic, salt, pepper, most of the chicken broth, and olive oil – all owned, i.e. FREE.

Grand total for 4 weekday lunches was $12.36, or $3.09 per lunch. 

The Great Oatmeal Challenge – Complete!

Well, I did it. Yesterday, I completed my Great Oatmeal Challenge. It took me over 6 weeks and approximately 32 oatmeal breakfasts to finish. Talk about a feat!

Thanks to all of you who sent recipes and ideas to keep me from getting bored! Since I make my breakfast at work, it was a little hard to try all of them. I did manage to try a few, but mainly I stuck to oatmeal, flax-seed, cinnamon, and either berries or half a banana. You should see the cabinet where I keep all this stuff in my office. It looks like I knocked over the Harris Teeter.

The fruit was a great addition, and it helped the oatmeal be a more filling. I really need a stick to your ribs breakfast. Otherwise, I become ravenous in the afternoon, and I’m entirely inconsolable until I eat a bag of swedish fish. It’s a bad, bad situation.

My challenge did help me stay off the fish (mostly), and it also allowed me to save a BUNCH of money. By my calculations, each bowl of oatmeal cost a whopping $0.08. Not too shabby! The fruit cost extra, but even adding in the cost of fruit, the meal is still well under $1. Compare that to a $3 oatmeal from Starbucks, and I think you’ll see who the clear winner is…

ME.

I’ll Have the Mussels

Just yesterday, I was reminded how I’ve changed my ways since becoming the Discountess. I had dinner with friends at Bistrot Le Zinc, a cute little neighborhood spot in Cleveland Park. Despite being a local spot, their prices are a little on the high side. My friend had a Living Social deal though, so the dinner promised to be less expensive.

As the waiter came over to take our order, he talked about a bouillabaisse special. For those of you who don’t know what bouillabaisse is, it’s basically a french fish stew (and I love it). Their special had fresh shrimp and scallops in it, and it sounded delicious! I was all set to get it, when I remembered to inquire about the price. And thank GOD I did. Turns out, my yummy stew was going to cost me $34. Say what?! The conversation with the waiter went something like this:

Me: I think I’m going to get the bouillabaisse. What is the price on that?
Waiter: It’s $34.
Me: I’m sorry, did you say $24?
Waiter: No no, it’s $34.
Me: Thanks, I’ll have the mussels.

At $18, the mussels were far more reasonably priced, and still quite delicious. They serve them in individual Le Creuset pots, which is a nice touch.

In my old days, I would have gone with my gut (literally), ordered the stew, and gotten the sticker shock when the bill came. But now, I was at least aware enough to ask for the price before ordering. It might seem like a small thing, but it was a win for my bank account and my new-found frugality.

Now, I have an extra $16 burning a whole in my pocket. I think it’s safe to call that a victory.

 

Bringing It, Potluck-style

I was invited to a potluck dinner party last weekend, and my job was to bring the appetizer. I was desperately trying to figure out what to bring when I remembered a recent post on fromage fort from one of my favorite cooking sites, Smitten Kitchen.

Fromage fort is the perfect contribution for the budget conscious guest. It basically takes left over cheese, mixes it together with wine and herbs, and makes it into a soft cheese pate. Depending on which cheese you use, it could taste slightly different each time. But, trust me, it is always yummy.

I used leftover brie, emmentaler, and parrano that I found floating around in the back of my fridge. This is what  it looked like in the beginning.

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On my way home from work, I stopped at my favorite local shop, Stachowski’s to get some fresh herbs. The owner didn’t have any out, but when I asked, he nicely gave me some from the back. FOR FREE. God, I love that place. I swear if they served coffee on weekend mornings, I would be there all the time.

Anyway, I used the grater attachment in my cuisinart to grate the hard cheese, and then cubed the soft cheese and added it in. I dumped in some fresh Stachowski’s thyme and minced garlic, hit pulse, and drizzled white wine through the feed tube until it meshed together into a consistency I liked.

I stuck it in the fridge overnight to let the flavor develop, and it was ready to go before my dinner on Saturday. I served it with pita chips, but it would be good with crusty bread or any other type of cracker. This is what the Smitten Kitchen version looks like (we ate mine before I could get a good picture!)

Here’s the recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen):

1 pound mix leftover cheese, harder cheeses grated, softer ones cut into chunks
1 Tbsp soft butter
1 small clove garlic, minced, or more to taste
1/2 to 1 cup leftover white wine
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, rosemary or chives
1 to 2 Tbsp. dry sherry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Blend cheese, butter, and garlic in food processor until combined. Add the wine through the feed tube with the motor running until you get a smooth consistency, but it’s not too liquid. Add herbs and sherry and pulse until just combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Not only was the final result delicious and inexpensive, but it looked fancy and made a lot. I gave half to my mom for a dinner party she went to on Sunday night, and we both had leftovers!

 

 

Snow Day!

Today is our first snow day in over two years. I was so excited at the prospect that I not only dreamt about it, but I woke up in the 5, 6 and 7 o’clock hours to double-check that it was actually happening. And, it was! I practically skipped to my local Marvelous Market to get my morning cup of coffee.  Here’s a picture of my morning jaunt.

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Not quite the winter wonderland I was hoping for, but I’ll take it. Anyway, I have to say I’m less excited about the snow as I am about the new-found time to get things done. It’s my time to start tackling some of the items on that sneaky, ever-growing list of projects that never seem to get accomplished.

Today, in addition to the actual work I have to do, I’m tackling my taxes. Ick! Not awesome, but very necessary. I’m also going to make some soup that I’ve been planning to do all week, but haven’t gotten around to. I need to do some major closet cleaning as well, but we’ll see if that actually happens. It seems to me that spring cleaning should happen in spring, no?

I hope everyone enjoys the snow! What are you doing to make this a productive snow day?

February Budget Breakdown

Forgive the lack of posting in the last few days, I’ve been crunching numbers (among other things). All I have to say is thank GOD February is over. What a miserable month. I managed to have some fun (see the shopping and entertainment line items), but I am officially itching for spring.

Again, shopping and the grocery store seem to be the biggest culprits of my budgetary failure this month. Also, my gym budget hit me hard because I had to pay out my last month of membership at WSC and my first month at Barre3. Man, that was a wallop. And let’s not forget my VERY fun California trip, which also helped push the shopping budget over the edge (and we all know that it teeters on the brink during normal months).

Here is the full budget breakdown for February:

Cash/ATM – 10% over (Worse than last month – I think I need to change this budget number.)
Gifts – 45% over (I counted a some of my California trip here, since it was a bachelorette weekend.)
Gym – 325% over (EEK! My WSC membership ends on March 10th, so it won’t be an issue again. Phew.)
Personal Care  – 8% over (A big improvement over last month, but still over.)
Shopping – 207% over (Ugh.)
Groceries – 41% over

I was even or I only used part of the budget (i.e. I saved) in the following categories:

Auto/Transportation – 41.6% used
Bills/Utilities (includes rent, cable, etc) – 67% used
Business/Office – 0% used
Entertainment – 87% used
Food/Drink – 99.5% used
Dry Cleaning – 15% used

In terms of meeting my “no booze” goal during February, I passed with flying colors. I even went to a work dinner and just drank water. Talk about iron will!

Now that we’re in March, my goal is to take the stairs at work. Of course, this isn’t a financial goal, but I still think it’s a worthy one. Now that I’ve quit the gym, I also seem to have quit cardio. I’ve been going to Barre3 a lot, but I still need something to get the heart rate up. And since it’s still FREEZING cold outside, my runs aren’t happening as often as I would like.  And so, I will walk up the stairs at work. I already live in a walk up apartment, so that won’t be an issue.

Is that goal lame? I was going to make March “no shopping for clothes month,” but I’m not sure I’m strong enough for that yet. Plus, I’m headed to St. John with the family mid-month, and I’m in need of a new bathing suit. Priorities!