Friday, July 25

link it up

Happy Friday folks. I'm taking it easy in Durham for this one, spending some time with my dear old friend and new roommate M, maybe hitting up the pool and the driving range. Tonight I'm cooking a thai meal with a few friends (my job is making Thai tea and boba, at which I am an expert, so no sweat). Are you running crazy or getting to relax this weekend?

Why  you're not actually poor (and should probably stop saying you are).

I eat out a LOT as a road warrior for work, and this is spot on (the comments section makes it even better).

If you love candles, I highly recommend you check out the selection of my favorite brand, on sale now at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Free shipping both ways! The little sets make great gifts.

This is pretty basic, but would have been helpful to start my education: an introduction to investing.

The most incredible little dancers I've ever seen. How are they moving so fast? Plus they were on Ellen, which gives them my immediate stamp of uber approval.

Wednesday, July 23

discover [better than yelp]

Are you a foodie? Do you travel a lot, and need recommendations on where to eat across the US? Do you like browsing pictures and reviews of a restaurant before you try it out? Are you ever unsure of what to order?

All of these things apply to me. I love love LOVE to go out to eat- the entire experience is such a pleasure. BUT, my indecision can be crippling. D will ocassionally check in when I'm on the road, and as late as 10 pm I'm still deciding...can't pick out of 3 restaurants, and at those 3 which things to order, and should I take out or dine in, and what makes the most sense based on my location, what I've eaten today, what I want to eat tomorrow, did I get a workout in, do I also want dessert, what am I in the mood for...

It's a problem. And Yelp, as we all know, is only as valuable as the users; my complaint isn't that such users are unsophisticated, as many claim, but rather that we all have different metrics on which we score a service experience. Joe Yelper might rate McDonald's as 5-star, because what he values most is convenience and price, but would give a fine dining restaurant 1-star, because he disliked the stuffy ambiance. Even with filters, Yelp can only take you so far.

I have two solutions for you: Chefs Feed and Find.Eat.Drink. If you're a foodie, get ready to fall down the rabbit hole.

I have more familiarity with Chefs Feed, which is basically a magical Yelp where all the users are professional chefs. The app and website allows you to browse, by city and chef, favorite restaurants and favorite dishes at said restaurants. With a few other filters, like price and location, you can find both hole-in-the-wall dives and worth-it splurges from your favorite cooks. I like that the chefs available to follow in each city are usually the best known- in DC, for example, you can follow Billy Klein (Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak, Cafe Saint-Ex), Haidar Karoum (Estadio, Proof, Doi Moi), Spike Mendelson (Good Stuff, We the Pizza), and my favorite, Kyle Bailey (Birch and Barley, Bluejacket). They have a good range of chefs representing eateries from pastry/coffee joints to burger bars to breweries to ethnic eateries, so you can refer to an expert for many different cuisines.

My favorite part? They have a youtube channel where famous chefs read bad yelp reviews, a la Jimmy Kimmel celebrity tweets. Very funny.

Find.Eat.Drink is new to me, but it seems so similar to Chefs Feed that I thought I'd share both. Based on the similar premise that nobody knows the culinary world quite like the culinary world, why not get your recommendations from such folk? They seem to have many more cities represented than Chefs Feed, including international options (so helpful, because I'm even more at a loss when abroad than in, say, Texas).

 Interesting that they both use orange- perhaps to differentiate from the red GoliathHave you tried either? I find their advice to be more concise, filtered, and authentic than Yelp, Opentable, Google, or any of the other un-curated review websites. Oh, and don't forget Eater, in my opinion the best food website there is.

Tuesday, July 22

DIY or buy [fruit and vegetable wash]

There are a few people in my life (health nuts, the newly pregnant, the organic obsessors) that have lately all recommended I start using a cleansing fruit and veggie wash on the ample amounts of produce I'm eating. Especially as I rarely buy organic, it certainly can't hurt me to take a bit more care in my preparation. DIY or buy?

This one is tough to call, since I don't have any structured way to test the cleanliness of my produce after using either a homemade or a store-bought cleanser. I'm going to say that using a wash is better than using nothing (which is how I've been living my life for years), so if you won't make one, than go place an order on Amazon. However, I will of course recommend you make your own, because it's vastly cheaper to make than purchase.
It seems that FIT and Veggie Wash are the two most popular washes on the market, and they sell for under $10 for a 16oz bottle. The ingredient list is a bit obscure, listing "natural cleaners made form corn, palm and coconut, sodium citrate, glycerin", and a few extracts and oils, but they claim that all of the ingredients are plant derivatives. When the main ingredient is water, by a vast proportion, it makes sense to find your own recipe.

The DIY version, which I mixed up a batch of, is just 1 tablespoon lemon, 1 tablespoon baking soda, and 1 cup of water. Fill up a spray bottle (less than a dollar for a small one at Ikea- I use it to water my succulents, too) and go to town, but be sure to rinse your food off after giving it a good spray and rub. For soft fruits like berries and stone fruits, mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a tub and let the produce soak for a few minutes. Aside from cleaning, this can prolong the life of your produce, since vinegar is a natural disinfectant and can kill off bacteria that shortens shelf life.

Happy washing!

Monday, July 21

bibliophile [casual vacancy]

I hope you're all in the mood for some reading recommendations, because I have a backlog of 5 books to share (in case you're yawning, don't worry, I plan to space them out). Perfect for the dog days of summer, no? First up, the woman that needs no introduction.

The Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling

To say this is worlds away from Harry Potter is an understatement. This is a modern-day, muggle non-magical novel, although there are a few young adults coming of age in a world divided by class and prestige.

When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

I think that blurb is pretty dumb, and makes the story sound like a petty intrigue and a cheap read. I suppose the townsfolk of Pagford can be very petty, but the novel is not; I found it to be well-written and interesting, even though, plot-wise, there is very little action until the last quarter of the book. I'm not a plot-driven bibliophile anyway, but a character-driven one, and they are well-developed here (I should note they aren't really like-able, but there is a comedy to the book that keeps it from being a downer). When you get to the last 25% of the book, it's like an explosion of activity, and one dramatic event is seen from the perspective of almost every character that results in a fast-paced, page turning conclusion. One of my favorite reviews said: "Rowling is relentlessly competent: all these people and their hatreds and hopes are established and mixed together. Secrets are revealed, relationships twist and break, and the book rolls toward its awful, logical climax with aplomb." I found that to be so appropriate, and I hope it encourages you to give it a go.

Friday, July 18

link it up

Soooo it's been a busy time. Two full weeks of travel, one quick night in Durham, and then off again for a work trip this past week. I'm finally back with feet firmly planted until August. Looking forward to some time here (particularly sleeping in my own bed, cooking, and catching up with friends). I feel like my time at home was a dream- it was long, to be sure, but so peaceful and lovely. Sigh, summer.

Celebrities that share a face. This is SUPER well done, if not exactly high-brow.

A case for talking to strangers.

Well this could certainly be helpful: 22 hard to kill plants.

I'm not saying I'm going to buy it, I'm just saying I want to: a handy kitchen gadget for under $5.

A website that analyses your Facebook verbiage to predict your personality? This will surely get addicting, once you realize you can search any of your friends, see who is most similar to you, and generally over-analyze. 

Friday, July 4

link it up

4th of July cake! Actually less challenging to make than I thought.
Happy 4th, my friends! I'm quite pleased to share a birthday week with our all-things America holiday. Here's hoping yours includes a few cookouts (barbecues if you're in the South), a chilled beverage of choice, and some time in the sun. Mine will include family time, rounds of telefunque with cocktails, a visit to the Cape, catching up with hometown friends, Marylou's coffee, Wilburs ice cream, and theatre in Boston...those things sprinkled over the baseline of BEACH, of course.

This doesn't bother me, but it is interesting: take a look at the age gap between Hollywood's leading men and their on-screen love interests

Pure Wow did a list of their favorite book set in each state. Happy America day indeed.

For an interesting look at global beauty standards, this woman had her face photo shopped in 25 different countries. Ew, US.

P.P.S. it is summer, you know. (you'd think the geniuses at Google would know that, seriously)

Wednesday, July 2

craigslist find [couch edition]

The most important thing happening in my life tonight (besides picking up a nice check from my consignment shop, and a lovely Mexican dinner with my girl L, and the fact that I just made 12 popsicles with coconut milk) is that I found a couch. On craigslist, where else?

It's a charcoal tweed-like fabric, which is a great contrasting texture to my silk pillows (West Elm, thanks J&R!) and my fur baby pillows (C. Wonder). Oh and the RH throw from my mama. I know you should get the couch before the easily-altered, vastly-cheaper accessories, but as that wasn't the case here, I'm lucky they all matched. The tufting is nice and tight, and though of course I'd prefer a deep chesterfield diamond tuft, perhaps in cognac leatherbeggars craigslisters can't be choosers.

Buying sofas online can be tricky. It's almost 8ft long, perfect for nap time, but what about the comfort of the sitter? I read in House Beautiful that you want a combined depth and seat height (basically the distance from a person's tush to toes) of 40-44" to sit comfortably (40 if you're short, 44 if you're tall). Thankfully this couch is right in the sweet spot. Of course, to really decide if a couch is comfortable, my expert advice is to sit on it (which is what I did with a friend on Tuesday). If I need to give it a bit more height, it should be easy to build longer legs, which I very well may do down the road.

I was able to haggle to $350 including delivery by two friendly dudes the following night, which was too good to pass up (it's retailing online for $1299, and the ad asked for $700, so they treated me very well).

P.S. Who thinks we should make traught a word to replace the ever-awkward "treated"?  Someone make it happen.

Tuesday, July 1

cheap eats [popsicles]

There are few things easier than whipping up a popsicle. You can take almost anything you like to eat, blend it up, pour it into a mold (or Dixie cup, or ice cube tray), give it a few hours, and enjoy. What better way to kick off July than with a frozen treat?

My newest creation? Almond milk and cookie dough. I made these chocolate chip cookies for a care package for D, and had some dough left over (DARNIT, don't you hate when that happens?). I had homemade almond milk in the fridge (more on that over here), which is only good for a few days anyway, so it was the perfect base. I added some sugar to the plain almond milk and popped it in the freezer. After about 2 hours, I added chopped up bits of cookie dough- you can add it right from the start, but it will settle on the bottom- waiting a bit allows it to distribute more evenly.

I appreciate how customizable ice pops are, both for the flavor of ingredients and the health factor. I've seen coconut milk used as a lactose-free, vegan option, like here and here. To cut down on the fat, you can substitute coconut water for some (or even all!) of the coconut milk. Another healthy way to achieve a creamy texture is to use bananas- I'm sure many of you have heard of "nice" cream, an ice-cream-like treat made by blending frozen bananas. This recipe for PB&J popsicles uses frozen bananas as the base, which I think sounds delicious.

This recipe calls for whipped cream, bourbon, and yogurt, and this one goes for the gold, using ice cream as the base. I can't wait to try these vanilla mint lemonade pops, which use lemon juice and water as the base. Heck, I remember having plain 'ol frozen orange juice popsicles when I was younger- blend up a banana or mango with some OJ for a more interesting flavor.

And finally, breakfast pops. That's a thing, apparently.

Friday, June 27

link it up

My first weekend in Durham all summer! I can't really claim loneliness since D has been gone, since I've gotten to visit Chicago, DC, and Charlotte, all in a row. Finally I'm local and have a good line up of activities: a performance at DPAC, yoga at the brewery, an outdoor concert, a visit to the farmers market, and some time in the sun, plus plenty of cocktails with my girlfriends. Don't feel too bad for me as I leave the jet-setter lifestyle behind- next weekend I'll be back in New England (YAY) and, following that, in NYC with my bestie (DOUBLE YAY).

Listening to music and wishing you could have a cocktail that suits the mood? Check out Drinkify. Here's what they recommend if you're listening to Robyn, which you should always be doing, always.

Very interested in this app, because I love travel and I love cheap.

As a female athelete (well, once upon a time anyway) I found this piece on Title IX (celebrating its 42nd anniversary) to be revealing.

An argument for the consultant career path, and for maintaining your mystery, featuring a Duke/Fuqua professor.

This guy is totally charming as he debunks many of history's greatest myths. With stick figure animation, of course.

Wednesday, June 25

thrifty travel trips [flights and lodging]

I've been putting off writing about our Roatan vacation, partially because any summation means the trip is truly in the past. But, as my blog is loosely intended to be a place where I share the many corners I cut and tricks I've learned to live a fulfilling, fancy life while on a budget, this vacation absolutely needs to be part of the narrative. We did this on the cheap, y'all.

(Before we get started, I want to remind you that I shared some cheapy vacation tips after D and I did Vegas and LA last summer, over here.)

the view from our favorite spot on the beach (we hung here for at least an hour 5 out of 7 days)
Let me preface this by saying that vacations, in my mind, are a lot like weddings; you can do them totally low budget or totally astronomical, depending on what you're prioritizing and what you're willing to sacrifice. So, if your heart is set on fine spas and first rate service, maybe don't book a vacation rental in a third-world country, get what I'm sayin? 

Our vacation rental included free beers in the fridge. Man they were good to us!

Our priority for this trip was a peaceful beach experience, which let's be honest, eliminates a lot of affordable options (Cancun, Miami, etc). We chose Roatan, the largest island off of Honduras, because my friend L had been there to scuba dive years earlier and knew it checked our boxes: incredible free activities (snorkling along the world's largest reef, after the Great Barrier in Australia), plenty of affordable vacation rentals (no crappy resort food, no stomach-bursting buffets, no crowded beaches, tons of privacy and space), and all the other amenities you'd want with island living: clean sand, warm water, fresh seafood, temperate weather, friendly locals, and so on.

a friendly local. more specifically, the first mate on our snorkel/fishing boat. once his English improves, he'll run his own.
Let's talk flights, because that's where you really get hit with Honduras. We booked in March, just two months before our May trip, and flights were $600. We hemmed and hawed a bit about that cost, but the other expenses (we'll get to that in a moment) were so low that the total cost produced vastly more bang for the buck than going with an all-inclusive trip or a week at a cheaper flight destination, like Puerto Rico or Mexico. Had we booked a month earlier, prices were $480, but we didn't see them any lower than that, even further in advance. I use Kayak to set up price alerts, which you can receive directly to your inbox when there is a change. This is a GREAT way to track prices, especially if you're a bit flexible on dates, which we were. Quick note: I used points for my flight (actually, the 40,000 bonus points awarded when you sign up for Chase Sapphire Preferred, my credit card of choice, more than covered the cost). Now, I think intelligently utilizing points for travel is a phenomenal frugal tip- you wouldn't believe the ways I've benefited from collecting miles, hotel points, rental cars, and so on- but I recognize that not many folks travel as frequently as I do, and I don't recommend opening a new card without serious consideration, so we'll table that discussion for another post.

Our VRBO home from above! It was a 3 minute walk down a gentle hill  and you'd roll right into the water. We liked to head North another 5 minute walk through town to our favorite beach spot.

After flights, your biggest expense is lodging. We paid less than $1,200 total for 7 nights, 8 days in a VRBO vacation rental, which is less than $40 per person per night for a spacious and well-equipped home. We had a full working kitchen (including some nice perks, like a coffee grinder and french press, a milk frother, plenty of tupperware, ice cube trays for our many tropical drinks, etc), washer/dryer, two full baths, two private bedrooms, a balcony with a grill, lounge chairs and an ocean view, a pool, a roof deck for incredible star gazing, AIR CONDITIONING, free internet and water, a tv, movies, books, beach towels...basically, a home away from home. Of course we had to prepare our own food, but we were looking for health/frugality/quality reasons, so that was a perk rather than a drawback.

yay for open concept! bedrooms were off to the right, and the rest was one long room leading from the front door to the balcony. this place really felt like home.
I wanted to share flight and lodging today, and I'll share more about our time on the island and how we saved there next week!