Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Thanks

Yay it's Friday!  I just want to say thanks to everyone who reads our blog and takes time to write comments.  I read and love each comment!  So thanks!

We got all 4 of these thank you cards in the photo in one week!  We have very thankful, polite friends!

***edit: actually we had a 5th card come in last night but it didn't make it into the photo.  Happy Royal Wedding day!  ***

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pero: a coffee alternative.

If your a serious coffee seeking alternative person, or are just curious aftter my review of Tecchino, I have news for you!  I have been experimenting more in the coffee alternative sector.  Remember way back when I gave up coffee and I felt so much better?  Well I have always loved the taste of coffee, especially in lattes or yummy mixed drinks.  I HAD to find an alternative!

I tried Tecchino.  It was pretty good but not so amazing I'd 1000% drink it daily.  So I'd give it a B-.  Now I'm trying Pero.  I got it at my local health foods store.  I think it cost about $8 and has like 100 servings or something.  The container feels like it's filled with just air - it's almost weightless!  Crazy.  It's made of barley, malted barley, chicory and rye.  I know you're probably thinking "great I still have no clue what's in it".   Yes that's what I was thinking. 

Well barley is a plant (good natural start) but no clue how it gets turned into this product.  It's a grain.  Well chicory is a plant (another good start) that has leaves you can eat in salads and roots that go into coffee alternative products.  Excellent.  Thus it has a earthy/root/slightly bitter taste.  Rye is also a plant (still good) and no clue what part of it goes into this product.. the grain? the grass?  the roots?

I checked out the website and it wasn't very helpful.  I found that it doesn't have any caffeine or anything artificial.  It won't elevate my heart rate, blood pressure or create sleeplessness.  The website has a bunch of cool recipees to make with it - from lattes to mouse and tiramisu.  No clue how it get its' brown color - maybe the chicory?!  See what it looks like in my photo below.

The taste?   Well at first I hated it.  (it's still not the real thing)  The directions say to add 1 teaspoon to 1 cup of hot (hot boiling water).  I found that gave me luke warm brown water.  Bleghh.  I then decided to add more than 1 tsp and add to boiling hot tea kettle water.  It was okkkaaayyy.  Not great.  C- at best. 

Then I decided to add other stuff - like cocoa powder, vanilla syrups, mint hot chocolate mix.  All of a sudden it was good!  Maybe even a B+ grade!  Probably not the healthiest way to start your day but enjoyable for the coffee less - give us a break!

A hot chocolate mix with pero cup of morning goodness.  It's no real coffee but a good way to start a morning. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

DIY no sew table runner

I've been feeling a little crafty lately and recently T and I hit our our not-so-local Jo-Ann Fabric.  We were on a really far away errand - don't remember what - but found ourselves buying a lot of fabric.  This is just one of the projects - more soon!

I decided to make a DIY no sew fabric table runner.  I've been lusting after beauties at Crate and Barrel after realizing they look perfect on our table since I got one on clearance after Christmas.  I wanted to make one cheaper than $40.  Enter gorgeous fabric! 

grab a yard (or 2) of your favorite bright cheery fabric.  buy way more than you need.  check.

measure out 16" x 62".  The actual dimensions will be 14" x 60" so leave one on every side for the 'hem'.  Yours could be longer than 60" but we have a 4 person table so it's kinda short. 
use no sew fabric hemming tape to achieve perfect edge.  Turn your iron on medium and line the folded over edge of the fabric with the hemming tape.  This stuff works quick!  Only 3 seconds on each side and your done!  Of course it took a while since it was 60" on each long end. 

*Yes my iron lights up cool colors - each color helps you realize what material it's good for/the heat temperature.  Also it has beeping noises to let you know when you've 'preheated' the sucker.  It's cool like that.*
Look at those perfect clean edges.  Note: I didn't wash the fabric before crafting like I was suppose to.  I'm not planning on licking this or anything... so it'll be fine!

See how I got the last corners done.  Use a little extra no sew hem tape if needed.  Try and get that edge to not overlap on the outside of the fabric - thus not seeing it right side up. 

Check out the finished product!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Going Blue

I wrote about how I've been wanting to add some things to our home lately.  I've been patiently waiting for the perfect sales and combination of decor and needed accessories.  I think the term 'needed accessories' is an oximoron - but regardless.  We've added some blue!!!  Check it out:

2 blue candles from Target - $2 a pop
the glass candle plates already owned - from IKEA (.50 I think each)

$20 large blue vase/thingy from Home Goods.

2 blue patterny throw pillows from Tarjay for 5 beans each
(1000 bonus points for that reference)

a cool replacement lampshade from Target for $5.  We used to have a red less than cool shaped shade but the clean bright lines of this one with the added blue ribbon around the edge plus five dollar price tag made it irresistible. 

okay okay... this isn't blue, but it's a cool new needed accessory for the pens on my desk.  I've always loved these anthropologie mugs and finally got around to getting my own.  Yes that is a silver letter opener from Montserrat, France peeking in the back of the photo. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

DIY counter cleaner

Straight from 'Homemade, how to make hundreds of everyday products fast, fresh and more naturally' by Reader's Digest 2008 - a easy DIY recipe for counter/everyday cleaner.  Since we were out of our old Clorox product I decided to make my own and save $4.  I already had all the ingredients so it was easy and quick!

Fresh-Smelling Multipurpose Cleaner
  • 3 1/2 cups hot water
  • 1/2 cup white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon borax
  • 1 teaspoon washing soda
  • 1 teaspoon liquid castile soap
  • 1 clean 32-ounce spray bottle
  1. Fill spray bottle first with hot water; then add vinegar, borax, washing soda, and the liquid castile soap. Shake well before using.
  2. Spray on countertops, kitchen appliances and fixtures and tile or painted surfaces.  
  3. Wipe down with a clean cloth or damp sponge.

the line up
the final product - cloudy but really works great!
I got this book from the library because I'm cheap and have to check these things out.  Plus now I know the recipe and can make it again - for free!  Also I was disapointed in the book since the description and cover made it seem like it was mostly household related and found that it was 85% food cook book.  That's fine but I didn't want that.  So back to the library world it goes.  Thanks Wake County!

I used Dr. Bronners - peppermint for the castile soap and love the scent it brings to the spray.  It's crazy how far a little of that stuff will go!  Also I started with a old windex bottle but found it wasn't large enough.  I switched to a 32 oz bottle... duh like the recipe calls for.  Great job reading Robin.

Also there was a tiny and cool little reaction when I added the washing soda since the vinegar hadn't all mixed with the water.  It bubbled up some so I'd recommend doing this over a sink.

Glad we now have a healthier alternative to Clorox products.  I've used it for a few days and have to say it works just as good as the store bought stuff and smells better too!  Yay for homemade.

ps. gotta get Tony to design me a cool logo for all my homemade products (like this & this) with his cool photoshopping skills. 

What is this?

Can you help us?  We need to identify this product.  We bought it at our local Harris Teeter under the 'lemongrass' sign.  But now think we maybe wrong.  It's about the texture of a carrot... could it be an alternative carrot?  It might be a little softer than a carrot actually.  hmm... It has a faint lemongrass scent but it could be something else.  It cost about $2.50 (YIKES!!!) for this one piece.  We better put it to good use (once we know what that is).

any thoughts?

*** thanks to everyone who commented.  The conculsion is YES this is a parsnip (duh me.).  Question: what do parsnips smell like?  Better question: what does lemongrass look/smell like?  ***

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Dinner

Happy Earth Day! Hope you got your free Starbucks or Caribou coffee, Target bag, or Origins Face Wash. If you missed out, don't worry- Lowe's Home Improvement is giving away pine trees tomorrow morning for free! Although not related to E.D., today's post is again food-oriented. We wanted to share some crazy good recipes we whipped up for dinner on this rainy evening.

The starter was a simple salad with stuff lying around in our fridge & pantry. Nothing to write home about.

The shining star from tonight was a soup, which was inspired by the winning dish on this week's Top Chef Masters. It's a Celery Velout (soup) that is to die for. The recipe can be found here:
The only modifications we made are that we used 1 box of vegetable broth instead of the undisclosed amount of water in the T.C. version. We used 1 small tub of sour cream instead of creme fraiche, and we used store-bought salsa verde instead of making our own. Lemon oil was made by mixing juice of half a lemon with a few tablespoons of olive oil. We made it last night & it was even better today!

The main course was a sandwich loosely inspired by a previous greek-style sandwich (here). On a store-bought ciabatta loaf, we placed artichokes, sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives, lemon juice, sprouts, hummus and muenster cheese. Lightly grilled, we actually ended up eating these open-faced, and used the top half to sop up the celery soup!

As if this weren't enough food (thank goodness we just worked out), we topped of our meal with what may be our best ice-cream recipe yet (we keep saying this, so I guess we are getting better?). 

It's a spin on the plain vanilla ice cream recipe found in our ice cream maker's recipe book. Essentially we replaced the heavy whipping cream with... coconut milk! And no, not the "So Delicious Coconut Beverage" which we used on our last ice cream post (also seen here on Danielle's "Off The Map" Blog). We used TJ's canned coconut milk. To enhance flavor, and tie in with the lemon featured in the rest of the meal, we added a few drops of lemon oil, as well as a dash of cardamom. Wow, it was delicous and not too sweet!


1 1/8 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cup milk
3 cup canned coconut milk
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cardamom
4 drops lemon oil
lemon zest to taste

Follow machine's instructions 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Beet Risotto & Sweet Potato Zucchini Cakes

This amazing creation was invented and excuted by my wonderful husband.  This was one of his genius food masterpieces.  Blog worthy.

Beet Risotto & Sweet Potato Zucchini Cakes:
  • 1 onion - diced
  • 1 cup arbiorio rice
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 3-4 cups of broth
  • 1 canned (& pickeled?) beet
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of beet juice
  • 1/2 cup parmesan - optional

  • 1 sweet potato - skinned
  • 2 zucchinis - skinned
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 egg
  • ___ breadcrumbs - not sure on quantity.. sorry.
  • seasonings - salt, pepper, herbs d' Provence
  • toppings: tomato sauce, pea shoots

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Make risotto (onion, arborio rice, white wine, veggie broth, optional Parmesan cheese).  At the last minute, add one canned beet, pursed in a food processor as well as beet juice (unless you're not using canned- right now fresh beets aren't looking that hot).

For the cakes, use a food processor (or box grater) to shred sweet potato, zucchinis and onion.  Place in large bowl and season with salt, pepper and anything you want (we used herbs d' Provence).  This made a bit to much for two people, so using 2/3 of this mixture, add egg, and breadcrumbs until it is able to form patties.  Add patties to an already heated nonstick skillet (preferably oven-safe... Otherwise you have to transfer them to a baking dish) coated with olive oil and sauté until golden brown (about 5 minutes).  Flip, cook another 5 minutes and place the whole pan in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Plate the risotto, top with a patty (don't grab the hot pan's handle!), and use a dollop of tomato sauce.  Some herbs (or in our case, pea shoot) or greens to garnish.

Play Anthony Bourdain's 'Medium Raw' audio book on your iPod while cooking.  It's glorified food porn.

-all works today were written and directed by Tony.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Meals for the Week - April 18th

Happy Earth Day {week}!  Hope you got your free Target reusable bag yesterday and stop by Lowe's to get your free tree this Saturday 4/23! 

This week as always we're trying to eat pretty healthy and semi organic.  On the menu this week are some goodies we've got in our pantry, freezer and of course fresh!  Yumm!

Fresh Succulents

We grabbed a few fresh succulents this past weekend for $2 a pop.  We re-potted them into nicer looking containers than the cheap plastic ones you get at the store.  We just used random things we had around the house.  They're great for making our place look a little fresher.  It's always good to have live plants around the house.  It makes me happy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Extra Spending Money

I told you about my mini medical side job.  Now let me explain all the other ways I make a little spending money.  Just to be clear I work a regular 40/hour work week at a large company.  But I manage to contribute a little more to our household income by these extras:

  • Every once in a while (often monthly) they'll offer a $10 gift card for writing 10 reviews.  This is a product review website.  They have reviews on everyday items - electronics, appliances, home goods, food, health/beauty items, basically anything.  So I write 10 reviews and get a $10 gift card.  Gift cards come via email about 2 weeks later.  Catch is each review has to be over 900 words - not hard once you've done a few.  Just ramble on about why that hairbrush, blender, vacuum or iPhone is so amazing and you never could live without it.  So far this year I've earned $30.  This is free to sign up with no wait list.
  • Surveys.  I do a decent amount of online surveys.  I only belong to reputable sites - nothing you'd see in a pop-up.  Most surveys take no more then 5 minutes.  I get them via email and much of the time I don't fit the demographic so can't participate.  Most reputable survey sites don't accept participants very often so it's hard to become a member.  I've been wait listed for a long time in order to get these:
    • Pinecone Research. Earn $3 per survey.  Online surveys on 'up-and-coming' products.  Paper checks come via USPS in about 4 days or via paypal.  I've made $30 so far.  I also participate in product testing - full sized new products to try, review and keep.  Last week I got 5 perfumes to test, review & keep, up next contact lens solution!  thrilling I know.
    • Synovate - A standard good 'take a survey get points' company.  So far I've earned $10.
    • Toluna Survey Center - I'm thinking about quitting this one.  You get points for each survey but so far it seems impossible to get enough points to cash in for the minimum of $20.  So far I've earned $0.
    • National Consumer Panel - I am new to this.  I finally got accepted and will begin soon.  This is a barcode scan all your groceries program.  I'm open to seeing if this is worth my time or not.  My scanner is due to be delivered this week so I'll keep you updated. 
    • Kellogg School of Management - I've gotten $10 off this.  Really easy, quick surveys.  I keep waiting to win the grand prize though.  Odds are 1/50 and I've almost done 50 so I should be winning that large gift card any day now. (right?)  Surveys via email and super quick.
    • L & E Research - a local place that does face to face surveys on random things - often medical but not always.  Get paid {very well} in cash on the day.  Many 'round table discussions' with 5-10 people - I never do those because I think they're weird.  This year I haven't done any studies.  Last year I made about $150.
    • Other local stuff.  I've done random ones through universities in the area.  There's a NCSU food tasting panel that pays well (plus free food) but the time slots never fit me - plus I'd have to pay to park.  Nahhh.
  • Blogging. I haven't actually made any money from blogging.  I technically could if my site had more visitors.  I have the goal of making $100 by the end of 2011.  So far I've made $6.01 but need to hit the $10 mark before I can cash in. 
You may think all this work is a lot for very little.   It really isn't.  It sounds overwhelming but really I do it in my spare time, on lunch breaks, on my iPhone etc.  I work four 10 hour work days per week so I have 1 day off a week to go do MRI's and click my way through surveys.

My earnings aren't very much - you can see, less than $100.  But consider, it's only April!  I've also made $210+ through my MRI's. 

I've discussed our newlywed finances and we're not strapped for cash that I have to resort to this.  For me it's just something fun/interesting to do.  If we needed that little something extra I'd get a better job than filling in surveys - I'm smart enough!  We have a decent income although I work as a contractor and thus don't get benefits like paid holidays, PTO, medical insurance, retirement funding, paid parking, etc.  

These earnings barely cover 1 month of parking at work!  ouch.

*note: all money earned is year to date.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

DIY detergent review

I blogged about how I made my own DIY laundry detergent a while back.  What I didn't find time to write about was a dishwasher detergent recipe that was even easier - no cooking/melting necessary!  We have a standard apartment dishwasher - nothing special.  It's pretty new, black and we've always used standard dishwasher detergent and/or eco friendly versions.  So I decided to try my hand at DIY dishwasher detergent:

It's a basic recipe:
  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda

    They're both powders so just combine them in a tub and use 2-3 tbs per load. 
I mixed them up and just filled the little cup in my dishwasher full of this new cheap cleaner.  Thing is... I wasn't impressed.  What's the point of using a dishwasher if you're going to have to re-rinse, de gunk and dry all your dishes?

So I googled and found that maybe I was missing some key ingredients!  Wahoo, I'm not a DIY detergent failure after all!  So this time I mixed up:
  • 1 part borax
  • 1 part washing soda
  • 1/4 - 1/2 parts citric acid. 
  • used vinegar as the rinse aid.

not clean

This supposedly gets rid of that film and makes dishes shiny.  Note: you can supposedly use lemon kool-aid concentrate powder instead of citric acid.  Because who has pure citric acid lying around?  Of course we do - we're weird.  We make homemade cheese - another blog post later.  So... I ran a load of dishes, and STILL not impressed. :(  It still didn't work as well as store bought detergents.  I had to wipe down glasses and some still had food or junk on them.  Everything has water spots.

What gives?

What am I doing wrong that this detergent isn't working for me?  I've googled more and found that:

a. I could be using too much detergent each load
b. I may need to clean the spray heads inside the dishwasher - with CLR or a ton of vinegar
c. I perhaps need to use 1 drop of regular soap (or Dr. Bronner's) with each load

I'm testing more theories and web testimonials on other DIY detergents.  I want to do this since it's better for the environment to not dump harsh chemicals into our water supplies and it's better for our home to not be around so many chemicals.  Plus I'm hoping that it saves us money.  As Michelle Duggar would say "buy used, save the difference".  Okay this isn't used, but homemade.  But if the results aren't there then I'm not going to waste my time.  I'll stick with couponing for cheap 'good' detergents.  More updates soon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stoop Cat

We've been mentally coming up with a list of 'Must Haves' for our new home/apartment/whatever we find when we move.  More on that soon...

One of the must haves/would really really really like to have is a porch for Cornelius.  He is a member of the family and one of his favorite spots is an outdoor deck.  He's a stoop cat.  From my old place to our current place he loves hanging out on the deck.  Since I've always lived on the 3rd floor it's never been an issue with him being able to escape (side story another day).  He's an indoor cat and we intend to keep it that way.
I wish I could find the photo of him sitting in his usual position at my old apartment with his head hanging over the edge of the railing. 

Even in the dead of winter he cries to go out.  He sits by the door and does his 'speak' and paws at the closed door hoping that someone will let him out.  Of course once he realized that it's still 20 degrees (just like it was 10 minutes ago) he cries and paws to come back in.  Really we know who's boss, but like to entertain him.  We use the opportunity to teach him tricks.  Now that it's warm out he'll spend an entire day out on the deck lounging in the sun, cat napping and whatever else kitties do, chase bugs, sniff new smells, be on the look out for birds and dogs and what not.  He'll come in for meals and if it gets too hot. 

So we really hope that when we move we'll have an outdoor spot for him.  So he can continue to be a stoop cat.  Neither of us want to let him free and be a semi outdoor cat so we're hoping for a fenced in deck.  This is a very specific request since we find a rental house/townhouse it most likely won't have a fenced in deck.  An apartment?  more likely. 

some shots of him being sneaky:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Garden Status

Here's a quick photo update on the status of our garden.  In previous years we've worked harder on our garden but this year with wedding stuff, the new place, travelling so much and overall laziness we've slacked off.  We did try to start our seeds off in our great success fail DIY aerogarden.  We ended up just planting a few things in pots and seeing how they did.  With the big moving coming we're not hoping for a huge harvest but it's still fun to try.  These last few weeks we've been getting great sunlight on our porch, so these babies are starting to grow strong.
(dead) rose plant? and ??????? what's that tiny leaf on the left side?
I forget what this is... carrot?  love puff plant?
long story, but a beautiful red flower grown from a bulb.  came from Target.
more lettuce
rosemary (well half a rosemary plant) from Whole Foods circa 12/10
rose plant - needs to be pruned and/or staked.
rose almost blooming

If any vegetables start to grow I'll post more photos.  We love being able to grow a few of our very own organic veggies.  2 summer's ago was a record for me - I had 4 huge basil plants we couldn't eat through, many heirloom tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots & flowers.  Many of these seeds we've gotten from friends or family and some are heirloom.  Hopefully we'll have a porch/deck/patio at our next place and will be able to grow some more next summer.  Wow that seems like a long way away! :/

Monday, April 11, 2011

More Yellow

We had a very busy weekend.  We shopped, we dropped, dined, cleaned, decorated and more.  To start off I'll show you a project I did all by myself.  I switched out the handle pulls on our console table!  We originally inherited this console table from a friend who was moving across country and needed to get rid of furniture.  I think it came from Target.  It had standard silver handle knobs - they're alright.  I knew I wanted fancier ones that were more 'us'.  

the before

Enter Anthropologie.  Ahhh Anthropologie, most fashionable clothes, the cutest stuff, oldest display cabinets around (no really, ever read the tags on those things?... table circa 1880 France $3,600), and most unique hardware.  There were too many knobs to choose from and even more online to buy.  They had all sorts of colorful designs, patterns and funky animal heads to put on your drawers or use as handles.  We chose these cute sunny yellow rubbed oil handles that really go with our living room.  They're kind of rustic, kind of modern and fresh. 

the after

And that's the end to the story of our new console table knobs.  Exciting huh?!  I think the table overall looks much better and goes really well with the rest of our living room.  Hopefully it'll translate well once we move to our new place.  I have high hopes.  

Random, but do they look like eyes to anyone else?  Did we just give our table a face?  lol.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Amato Photography

You may have noticed a new little box on the sidebar of my our blog.  That's a link to the facebook page for our photography site.  Tony and I have started a little photography side business - well not a real business per-say but a side something. 

The low-down:
Typically in the last few years we only do photography for family & friends.  It's always just been for fun - a hobby really, not to make money.  I say "we" but really 90% of the time just Tony is the photographer and I just tag along going "aww you guys are so cute!" and stuff like that making sure we get all the best poses & best smiles - while carrying everyone's bags & gear.  He does the editing and hard stuff.  We only get paid in food. 

We Tony has real experience - with over 8 years!  He's worked at a newspaper, on the yearbook, done lots of free lance work, done countless photo shoots for groups, families, couples, kids & weddings. 

We decided to try to earn a few extra bucks by offering our services to others.  (We know that between the two of us we'll have a few weeks when moving that there will be no paychecks [eeak!] and can use all the savings earned now.  Moving 200 miles can get expensive too!   We figure we only want to earn a few bucks so we can offer prices signifiantly lower than big studios and private full time professionals.  This gig will probably only last until he get's serious in school (aka day 1).

For More Info:
We're offering 2 hour sessions for engagement shoots with full editing and all the photos for $50.  For more information visit Amato Photography or our Flickr Page.  Our services are located in the Triangle - Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

Thus if you know someone in the area who is in need of fab photos on the cheaps, send them our way!  So far we've got 3 clients, which isn't bad.  Wish us luck as we see how well we do as 'mini short term business owners'!

action shot with lots of gear
Some of the beautiful couples Tony has shot:

Engagement B&W-15Alex & Matt-8

Erin & Taylor-15Emily&Karl3BW.jpg

Erin & Taylor-24Alex & Matt Rings & Makeup-17


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