Springtime Sunday Dinner – Menu of Champions

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Last night, my brother and I collaborated on a long overdue birthday dinner for my dad and stepmother.  We put on a spectacular party if I do say so myself – all very Discountess-friendly.

We planned a menu that used a lot of the same ingredients, which helped make the grocery shopping more efficient and cut down on waste. I don’t know about you, but it really fries me when I have to buy a bunch of fresh herbs only to use one tablespoon and have the rest go bad.  I felt totally vindicated when we conjured up this menu because it used up most of the ingredients we had to buy!

We started with Ina Garten’s Tuscan Mashed Chickpeas on a toasted baguette. Not only was the recipe easy, but it used basic pantry items that I had on hand.

For the main course,  we had roasted salmon. Since it was the star of the meal, I didn’t scrimp on the cut of the fish. I headed to an old family favorite, Cannon’s Fish Market, in Georgetown. They gave me a center cut of an 8 lb fish (I only needed about 3) for $28.89. I roasted it with a bunch of dill, parsley, lemon and green onions in the center, finished off with some salt and pepper. I drizzled olive oil on the top, added thinly sliced lemons, and tossed it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Doesn’t it look pretty?

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I made a “salsa verde” to go with the salmon that used up the rest of the fresh herbs. It was a sleeper hit! We rounded out the main course with a new potato salad and fresh asparagus. Wine was courtesy of my trip to California. And for dessert, individual strawberry shortcakes, recipe courtesy of Bisquick.

All in all a lovely meal, and for my part, the total tally did not exceed $80 (which will eventually be split between the two of us). Not bad!

For those who want it, I’m including the Salsa Verde recipe below. I highly recommend it! Easy and delicious. I don’t know how capers and mint go together, but trust me, THEY DO.

Salsa Verde

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, pressed

1 handful capers

1 large bunch parsley, washed and coarsely chopped

1 handful fresh mint, washed and coarsely chopped

Juice of  1 lemon

1/4  cup olive oil

Salt and cracked pepper to taste

Place the garlic, capers and fresh herbs in a blender. Add half the lemon juice and olive oil, and pulse a few times. Add more oil and lemon juice as needed to create a sturdy, herb-heavy sauce, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with salmon. Can be made a day or two in advance.

DC’s Hipster Haven

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This weekend I took my first trip to Union Market in DC for the Crafty Bastards art fair. The fair was packed with local artisans, vendors, and most of all, people. I have never seen so many DC hipsters in one place! See below.

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I went to the fair to do some Christmas shopping, but of course, I found nothing for anyone, but myself. I only spent $30 though, so I think I did pretty well.

I scored a cool leather cuff bracelet from a local company is called Fisticuffs (eeeek!), and all of their work is original and one-of-a-kind (and discountess-friendly!). I also got a stamp of a bicycle from another booth. I plan to use it to make homemade tags for Christmas presents. I love stamps – they are so versatile (there’s definitely a post on stamps coming later!).

Anywhoozer, I didn’t get to spend as much time perusing the aisles on Union Market as I wanted. There were so many people that it made it hard to get around. That said, I’d love to go back on a normal Saturday. From what I can tell, they have great food shops, fresh veggies, wine and more. It’s the perfect place to grab a coffee, a paper, and do some serious people watching on a sunny Saturday. Talk about inexpensive entertainment!

Dinner and the Theater on a Dime

Every year for my mom’s birthday, my brother and I try to do something special for her. In recent years, we’ve taken her to dinner and to the theater. She never gets to go otherwise, so it’s a pretty perfect gift for her. This year, we got tickets to see My Fair Lady at the Arena Stage. The show was fabulous. It’s always so cool to see a performance in that format, and they did an excellent job.

Dinner and the theater can be pretty pricey, but I co-opted my brother into helping me discount our evening. He got the tickets on Goldstar. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a great service that allows you to get discounts on area shows and events.

Instead of going out to a pricey restaurant, I hosted dinner for us at my house. My mom loves a pretty table, so I took extra time to make a lovely setting for her. I polished the silver (not my strong suit!), got out the nice linens, and bought flowers for a centerpiece.

Our menu was the following:

Hors d’oeuvre: Bucheron Sevre Belle (Goat Cheese), Onion Jam, and Crackers

Main CourseJeffrey’s Roast Chicken from the Barefoot Contessa – Highly recommend this. It’s easy, delicious, and inexpensive.
Cauliflower Puree
Green Salad with goat cheese, dried cranberries and sherry shallot vinaigrette

Dessert: Apple crisp with vanilla ice cream

Wine: Silver Oak (Note: I purchased this during my non-discountess days and was looking for a special occasion to drink it. At $75/bottle, it’s not a go-to discount wine, but it is delicious. It’s like wine-butter. Mmmmm.)

Total bill to serve mom a special dinner at home: $64.86 (split with my brother, it became $32.43 a piece).

Compared with a $100+ bill from a nice restaurant, I think that’s not too shabby! Plus, I think my mom enjoyed eating at home more. She gets a kick out of seeing us entertain. And because of her, we were able to learn from a master!

Budget Breakdown

Ladies and gentlemen, today, I am a sad sack. Reason why = I finally made a budget. Well, actually I didn’t really make a budget as much as look at what I spent in the last month to see where I should save. All I can say is WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING??

My financial advisor sent me a handy-dandy excel spreadsheet to track my expenditures, but I took it a step further and looked at every expense I had in the last month. Here are some eye-opening facts about me:

I love drugstores. In particular, drugstore.com (free shipping on orders over $25!) and CVS, but I have been known to stop at a Rite Aid now and then. Want to know WHY I know this? Because I spent $148.42 at them last month, and I can’t tell you what I bought. Perhaps some toiletries or cleaning supplies, but more than likely, it was another lip gloss to add to my collection of almost 30. I have serious problems.

Speaking of problems, other problem areas for me include iTunes ($51.05) and the grocery store (which we know from yesterday). I spent $370.32 on groceries last month. According to my financial advisor, who I’m hating more by the minute, that number should be cut in half. Bye bye meat and wine – hello ramen noodles and D.C. tap water!

There are, of course, two dollar figures conspicuously missing from this post – food/drink and clothes. Frankly, I can’t own up to those, but rest assured, they will be tackled along with the aforementioned problem areas.

Now that I’ve had my come to Jesus moment, the next stop is figuring out what I actually should be spending each month to save some dough. Stay tuned for more to come on that front.

Safeway – You’ve Foiled Me Again

So I headed to the Safeway this weekend to buy groceries for the week. According to my financial planner, I should only be spending $150 – $200 on groceries per month. I went to see if it was possible, and frankly, I don’t think it is.

First, I used my Safeway app on my phone to apply coupons to anything that I was planning to buy that was on their list. That saved me a whopping $2.13. Then, I went through the store and bought 20 food items and 3 birthday cards – some of which were on the club card savings. AND, there was no meat, no wine, and no household products either, mind you. This is my measly cart.

And for all of this effort, my stuff STILL cost $75.44 – half of my costs for the month. I usually get 2 boxes from a local CSA each month. Those are $30 a piece, so basically that taps out my monthly budget.

I’m going to have to get real creative to make this stuff last – I think I have some chicken in the fridge. But I don’t know how to make this last – and, seriously, I cannot live without meat or wine. It’s just not possible.

Is there a cheaper grocery store anywhere in D.C.? Does anyone know how to game the system??