Thursday, December 30, 2010

How To: find a place to live

How To: find a place to live

step 1: find Trader Joe's on the map
step 2: use google to find home near TJ's. (more on this in future post)
step 3: live happily ever after.


Simple Right??  These are my 3 simple steps to finding a nice place to live.  Okay okay, well it could be more complicated than that.  But for us that's a starting place.  When you are moving 3 hours away to a new bigger city that you've barely ever travelled to you need a starting place.

Come August 2011 (or sooner) we'll be making the big move up to Richmond, VA (see page).  Since we've never lived there and only visited twice we need a lot of help in choosing a place to live.  We're taking advice, photos, road trips, interview trips (eventually), craigslist ads & general Internet-ting into consideration when making our decision on where to live.  Back to step 1: find the local Trader Joes.  Okay so there is ONE in the greater Richmond area (just ONE?? Gah).  Simple enough - this we can work with.  But it is located in the fancy shopping area/neighborhood of Short Pump.  Since I don't have a job there yet, we can only base our new (rented... did I mention rented?) home around T's grad school.  Short pump is a 20 minute commute to his school.  Not bad, but it seems forever on the map.

We may disregard our own advice - and seek shelter elsewhere.  Step 2 may be challenging to do without taking a look at alternate areas.  In Richmond there seems to be 10,000 neighborhoods and 'areas'.  We like The Fan, south Richmond, Bon Air (Where YHL lives), East Highland Park & Tuckahoe all seem nice.

I made this lovely map on Google Map.  Not a super fan of all things Google?  You should be.  You can make maps like this!  Anyway I've highlighted areas that we loved (green = go), thought were okay (yellow = slow down) and Hell to the NO (red = stop).  See how far TJ's (yellow grocery icon) is from the rest of the city?  That little red heart monitor logo represents T's new grad school. 

It's still too early to seriously look at places.  We won't be buying a place; just renting.  We'd like perhaps a small 2 bedroom house or a cool townhouse or even an apartment in the Fan or across the street from his school in the financial district downtown.  Someplace with less downstairs neighbors would be great (2 noise violations in 6 months here does seem a little ridiculous right?).  Must haves: washer/dryer, dishwasher, parking spaces and 2 bedrooms.  Other loves: nice new big kitchen, lots of storage (we have TONS of wedding presents), 2 bathrooms (totally unnecessary I know) and a porch (for stoop cat). 

stoop cat.  aka Cornelius

More on our progresses and stoop cat to come.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Freebies to be Thankful for!

Since I've been so lucky to receive free giveaway gifts I'd like to show my appreciation.  First of all Thanks to Danielle of ash tree organics!  You can check out her blog 'Off the Map' here and her etsy shop here.  I won a giveaway on her blog and received a very cool organic reusable tote and wine bag!  Can't wait to use these soon!

Also I won a great prize from Cooking with Trader Joe's.  I won a facebook giveaway and came in 3rd place to win a gift card and their new cookbook. 

And lastly I won a $100 gift card (not shown above - clearly I used it) to Harris Teeter from G105 - local radio station.  So thanks to them... even though they don't read my blog.  Which they should.  The End.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hurry! Free Spicy Chicken Biscuit at Chick-fil-A!

Chick-fil-A is giving away FREE Spicy Chicken Biscuits for one week only.  It's easy to get one.  Click the link below.  Hurry!  Limited reservations available.  It won't be added to the menu until January 10, 2011!
From January 3 to January 8, Chick-fil-A is giving a limited number of FREE Spicy Chicken Biscuits to customers who make a reservation. Click the link above to reserve yours now! Please note this is not a coupon. 
Yes you have to actually "reserve" the sandwich.  I write that in quotations but it's for real!  It makes the spicy new sandwich very elusive and special if there are only x amount of reservations available.  If you're lucky enough to get one - hopefully not only 6am slots are available - unless you're into that early morning thing.  Props to Chick-Fil-A for making a regular (artery clogging) new promotional device seem that much cooler.  I'm planning on starting my week off Monday morning at 10am with one of these.  What better way to start off 2011?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Because I love FREE!!

Here is a Christmas present to everyone from Amazon!  You can get a free $2 MP3 music credit!
Enter the promotional code GIVEMP3S and redeem your $2 credit by following the instructions here . This offer is good through 12/26/10.

I love free music!  And Amazon’s Music Downloader makes getting this free music very easy!

Recommendations for my free $2?  Any good Christmas songs?  Yah, I might just get Taylor Swift instead.

The Digital Story of the Nativity

The Digital Story of the Nativity
{youtube, facebook, twitter, google, foursquare, amazon, gmail, wikipedia, sms, rent-a-donkey style.}

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Our First Holidays as Newlyweds

After the wedding dust has settled and you get your photos back along comes your first Christmas and holiday season and newlyweds.  Enter dilemma.  You now have 2 families who want to celebrate with their darling children and children-in-law.  No matter what the answer is 'Compromise'. 

T and I have a lot of things going on this holiday season in terms of family locations, our different schedules, PTO, budgets and more.  My family lives 6 hr drive away and his family lives 10+ hr drive away or a 1 layover $200 flight each.  And due to his hospital schedule he's forced to work Thanksgiving or Christmas.  This means we can't do Turkey day at one family and Xmas at the other family.  (The logical newlywed split I presume)  He had to work Thanksgiving this year including days that week - excluding travel to any family for that holiday.  Yep we celebrated alone - rather a potluck with friends after his shift ended at 7pm.

We did get to travel to see his family for a post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas break.  Thanks to Southwest we found flights for $30!  See this post for details (aka vegan adventure part 1).  That made it much easier to split this holiday season between our two families.  Also since I don't get PTO or leave, I can take off work whenever I want for leave-without-pay.  That does means I'll get a smaller paycheck but it's convenient since I don't need to have it approved or work around the office's schedule.

Now we'll each work this week and get to spend about two and a half days with my family in Virginia over the actual Christmas day.  Yayyy!!!!  It won't be easy since we'll drive the 6 hours after DH works a night shift and then come come Sunday.

sorry my hair looks like a rat's nest.
No matter where we spend the actual Chrismas day we've got our very own Christmas tree.  It's been up for weeks!  Our collection of ornaments is growing.  It now includes a mini replica of our wedding cake, lots of little owls, mini santas & lemur on the top as the star.

Had any newlywed holiday adventures?

Free {adorable} gift tags

This time of year presentation is key.  You can't just walk into your in-laws or a gift exchange party with a lame-ly wrapped gift.  If you've ever strove to create really well wrapped gifts and just ended up with boring paper and no cute ribbons or details then you'll know what a difference a cute gift tag can make!  Check out Blush Printables today for their free printable gift tags.  Free to download and print!

go wrap & enjoy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

homemade gnocchi

For a lovely week night dinner my husband (and I... kinda) made homemade gnocchi.  From Scratch!!  It doesn't seem hard but then again I didn't make the dough or do any of the hard work.  For me the most challenging part was shaping them into little pillows of their correct shape.  Cooking them and eating them of course were totally easy!

This meal was of course semi organic (and probably vegan... is canola oil vegan? Wait eggs aren't vegan.) and semi vegan.  With 5 ingredients plus our sauce it was easy but not quick to make.  It's not just a 'place in pot and come back later' meal.  But totally worth it!!  Our sauce included store bought (maybe organic) pasta tomato sauce, cooked spinach, frozen (maybe organic) broccoli and organic edamame.

Recipe Courtesy of Mario Batali


  • 3 pounds russet potatoes
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, extra large
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup canola oil


Boil the whole potatoes until they are soft (about 45 minutes). While still warm, peel and pass through vegetable mill onto clean pasta board.

Set 6 quarts of water to boil in a large spaghetti pot. Set up ice bath with 6 cups ice and 6 cups water near boiling water.

Make well in center of potatoes and sprinkle all over with flour, using all the flour. Place egg and salt in center of well and using a fork, stir into flour and potatoes, just like making normal pasta. Once egg is mixed in, bring dough together, kneading gently until a ball is formed. Knead gently another 4 minutes until ball is dry to touch.

Roll baseball-sized ball of dough into 3/4-inch diameter dowels and cut dowels into 1-inch long pieces. Flick pieces off of fork or concave side of cheese grater until dowel is finished. Drop these pieces into boiling water and cook until they float (about 1 minute). Meanwhile, continue with remaining dough, forming dowels, cutting into 1-inch pieces and flicking off of fork. As gnocchi float to top of boiling water, remove them to ice bath. Continue until all have been cooled off. Let sit several minutes in bath and drain from ice and water. Toss with 1/2 cup canola oil and store covered in refrigerator up to 48 hours until ready to serve.
gnocchi source

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

William Sonoma - Message in a Cookie Review. Take 1

As a Christmas gift to myself and since I had some cash and we happened to be at William Sonoma, I bought their Message in a Cookie cookie cutters set.  This is my first attempt at using the set.  It was not a huge success, but a start.

First I started with half a roll of Pillsbury gingerbread dough.  

I placed letters in and cut the shapes.  I tried my best to scoop them up off the counter and lay flat on the baking sheet.  As you can see that was tricky.  Some of the letters got smushed.  Some cookies I think were rolled too thin.

  Before                                           After

some letters came out too faint.  I need to press the words firmer in the future.

Some cookies came out okay.  I even tried decorating!  I whipped up some quick cheap frosting that came out pink rather than red. 

  • Adorable cookies (on the box)
  • infinite ways to personalize for every occasion
  • I want to make them pretty!!!!
  • um. duh cookies are awesome!

Cons/Things to Perfect:
  • Letters come individually (as well as a few pre-made words like "happy") and are very small.  It'd be very easy to loose letters in the sink or somewhere.  Be careful when handling!
  • Letters are also difficult to slide into place.  don't pinch your fingers!
  • I haven't mastered the technique of cutting them properly and placing them on a cookie sheet.
  • If not done right - letters become too faint.
  • No numbers or punctuation symbols.  "&" would be awesome!  There are only 2 lines per cookie to "write" on.

Things to do different next time:
  • use different recipe (?).  Recipe's with low baking soda won't rise much so would be ideal for this.  Cookies that rise a lot - some sugar cookies - will just obscure the letters when baking. 
  • Use more flour
  • try making cookies thicker
  • try making cookies thinner
  • try cooking on lower rack - for some reason these came out the best
  • press letters imprints in harder.
  • don't overbake
  • chill dough.  Keep dough in fridge as long as possible and if it starts to get too gummy or thick add flour and/or put in fridge/freezer for a few minutes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Going Dairy Free

 Since we're on a temporary dairy free diet.  We decided to try out Silk Pure Almond Chocolate Milk.  (wanna try this for the first time? coupon here). 

This funny and holiday themed photo montage is my reaction to drinking the chocolate "milk" for the first time.  I'm thinking...

It tastes really good; just like real chocolate milk!  It's nice and thick with dark chocolate.  I've eaten it with cereal, drank it straight and would put it in coffee if I was pro coffee at the moment.  See this post for reasoning for coffee hiatus.  It's a sad day without coffee - but surprisingly we've found we have more energy without the brew.  Overall I think the non dairy milk is really great! 

want to "winterize" your photos with silly lights, antlers and red noses?  Picnik it up.  it's free.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How to [economically] stay organic: Dirty Dozen

Since we're (semi) organic here at our household we like to at least know what produce is best for buying organic.  In perfect land well. a. everything would be organic. but b. we could afford as much organic as we'd like.  Since neither of those are true we stick to what we can get.  The Dirty Dozen are the 12 most highly pesticide-d produce thus should be at the top of your organic shopping list.  The Clean 15 have the lowest amounts of pesticides thus making it okay (don't worry no body's judging) to buy non-organic.

I admit I've bought organic onions, corn and asparagus before and not bought organic bell peppers or apples.  And who actually eats Kale?  Can't always be perfect right?  Print this list and keep in your wallet for an quick reminder at Lowes Foods.  Yes Lowes - in what world is that a grocery store not a home improvement store?  anyway.  Be classy like me and laminate it with clear packaging tape.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Attention Bloggers: get 50 free shutterfly cards!

Get 50 free Holiday cards from shutterfly if you have a blog.  Just go to their blog site post and you're ready!  I participated and look what I got for free!!  I ordered 25 since we don't actually need 50 and don't want to be wastefull right?  They come in flat cards (what I got) or folded cards (which you can personalize inside and out).  These babies are printed on super nice card stock (not that cheap photo paper) and come with envelopes.  A nice savings of $52 thank you.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010


(Source: Unsure – it’s whizzing around the Net, but nobody has linked to the original!)

Our favorite podcasts

These are our go to podcasts for listening pleasure.  They're all free on iTunes.  Whether it's a road trip, a waiting room or to fall asleep to (ambien anyone?) these are the best of the best... or at least the best of what we've heard in 26 years.  

  1. This American Life - our fav.  I even have the iphone app.  highly recommend!
  2. Stuff You Should Know - learn up on random (but very interesting) things such as: circumcision, roller derby, taxidermy & lotteries.
  3. NPR: Fresh Air 
  4. NPR: Live Concerts from All Things Considered - get your jam on.
  5. APM: The Story
  6. Podrunner
     7. Judge John Hodgman (from the Daily Show & Mac Commercials).  Really only liked 1 podcast, but it was good.

Any podcast suggestions?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Speed Camera Lottery: get paid to drive

Volkswagen's Fun Theory

vegan & coffee free

We had a really nice post Thanksgiving/Pre-Christmas holiday at the Amato Household.  It was nice for a short break away from home and work.  There was less snow in Ohio than in North Carolina!!!  We played with the dogs, cooked food, ate vegan and relaxed. 

Wait what?  Vegan?  "YEP" (a la Pam from the office).  Yes we ate (semi) vegan as Tony's brother is a "The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell" convert.  Roasted veggies, vegan cookies and soy milk were yumm!  As nice as it was I'm not giving up cheese or (the occasional) meat.  Meat that is when we can afford it.  Also I'm not sure we could afford an all vegan diet - comfortably.  Sure 100% produce diet is fine but there's no way I can make it through the rest of my 60+ years of life without cheese or chocolate.  sorry.  I need my chocolate cheesecake yearly.

I am trying out a dairy and coffee free lifestyle for a week or 2.  Or however long I last.  I've been getting stomach aches and like symptoms and perhaps attribute it to the increased coffee since marriage or lactate intolerance due to ... age?  It's an experiment.  Will share soon.

the pups.
we played scrabble - I came in last :(

Amato's Pizza.  The best part!    The caprese salad. yumm!!

roasted "vegan" aka regular veggies. 

We went to German Village in Columbus and ate at Schmidts.  Notice NOT vegan.  German = beer, brats & cream puffs.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Photos from the week

dinner of fish sandwiches with ciabatta bread, salad, sweet potato fries and tomato, red pepper soup. yumm!!

Trader Joe Flowers  arranged to fill 3 vases.  I finally get to use one of my wedding vases.  Kate Spade anyone??  Heck yeah!  love it.  I'm not the best flower arranger but I try.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Who can identify this spice?

this is the spice soaking in water

Any ideas?  It's most likely an Indian spice.


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