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Archive for May, 2009

365 days of dinner: May 23, 2009

May 31st, 2009 at 01:06 pm

Whoops, got sidetracked painting and didn't get back to this yesterday! I'll just do one more day of dinner for now.

So the dinner we had for Saturday, May 23, has a bit of a backstory. There was a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant called Lotus on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. (It was part of a mini-chain and there are still several Lotus restaurants, but each one had its own spin, and this one was the only Lotus whose food we went crazy for.) We hadn't been back for awhile because of not wanting to eat out as much, and wanting variety, but there had been times a decade ago when AS and I would go there once a week.

Anyway, a couple months ago we wanted to go there for a special occasion, but we called ahead and it was gone. Not just closed, actually; next time we went that far down Hennepin, we saw that the building had been bulldozed. (Here's hoping the genius owner is enjoying a comfortable retirement somewhere!)

They made mock duck entrees (the first mock duck I ever tasted, actually!) with thick, spicy, slightly sweet sauces that just hit the spot. But the big deal was their spring rolls. No other Thai or Vietnamese restaurants in Minneapolis make them quite the same, with quite the same sauce. I remembered long ago asking one of the waitresses what was in the sauce, and making her repeat the ingredients a couple times so I'd remember them. I actually still remember the ingredients, I think. So I decided to make Tofu Spring Rolls a la Hennepin Lotus and an entree that was an homage to them as well.

I found a recipe for Lemongrass Mock Duck on the Internet that sounded a bit like the Imperial Mock Duck I used to get at Lotus, so NT made that recipe. I didn't find a spring roll recipe that sounded similar to what I wanted, so I sort of winged it. I'm proud of that because I'm big on following recipes and not much of an improvisational cook. But the spring rolls turned out almost exactly as we remembered them, and the dipping sauce was quite close!



NT's mock duck dish also turned out really, really tasty:



It was almost like having Lotus back again, for a day, on our balcony. Sigh...

365 days of dinner: May 17-22, 2009

May 30th, 2009 at 02:17 pm

OK, second entry of 365 Days of Dinner for today. Let's see how many days I can get done.

Sunday, May 17, we had veggie fajitas for lunch (made by NT, which was exciting since I usually handle Mexican cooking):



Then we went to a party, and guess what they were having? Well first, this luscious fruit selection:



But then...veggie fajitas! LOL. But it was great, because they used different beans, fillings and preparations, so it tasted totally different.



Monday night, May 18, we had our old favorite, pizza, but it was nice enough weather to dine al fresco, on our balcony:



Tuesday night we had a quick meal of veggie chili dogs, canned baked beans and potato wedges (just from frozen). Besides the chili dog shown, I also had a veggie dog with dijon and sauerkraut. Mmmm...



Wednesday, May 20, we were over at our friends' house for our usual Wednesday get-together, and they made grilled cheese sandwiches (soy cheese for me!) and a homemade tomato soup that was divine! Breaking with SavingAdvice blog tradition, this photo features AS biting into one of said sandwiches!



Thursday we had NT's fresh pasta with tomato sauce, and AS's focaccia rolls (with garlic and margarine rubbed on them, yum):



Friday, May 22, we had "chicken" enchiladas. AS made the main dish, which was exciting both because I usually handle Mexican cooking and because AS usually doesn't cook entrees at all--she's our resident expert on baking and desserts.



OK, I'm really proud of my next dish, so I'm going to stop this entry and put it at the top of the next entry.

365 days of dinner: May 16, 2009 (and dessert from May 15)

May 30th, 2009 at 01:46 pm

Finally I've remembered about 365 Days of Dinner at a time when I'm by a computer and have access to the photos! Let's see how many I can get through before I go paint the front hall with NT.

First off, I forgot to post a photo of the dessert we had after vegan chicken 'n' waffles on Friday the 15th. This is an unbelievably delicious (and pretty!) apple tart from the Barefoot Contessa, made vegan by the lovely and talented AS:



So Saturday, May 16, we went out for sushi to a new place during our incredibly expensive weekend. It was a cute little place by the U of M called Obento-ya, and the food was just unbelievable. I wasn't drinking, but AS and NT each had a sake flight:



Only AS could have the miso soup, because it had some kind of fish ingredient:



I had inari, which is a slightly sweet dish with rice stuffed inside a cold skin made of fried tofu:



AS had sashimi (fish sushi without rice) and avocado rolls:



I had avocado rolls too. It's a deceptively simple dish, but when it's prepared just right, it's just like a mouthful of heaven!



AS had grilled scallop skewers, and I had grilled mushroom and tofu:





NT had this amazing grilled rice ball (wish I could remember what it was called; I had one later and it was really tasty) and a bento box of breadcrumb-coated skewered veggies, among other things:




Well, I think I'll leave this entry at that, because there were so many photos for that one meal! I'll start another one and see how far I get; I can see and hear NT clearing the hall for painting.

Reached May debt repayment goal!

May 29th, 2009 at 06:57 am

AS's other student loan hit, with $53 going to principal. That makes $1438, just exceeding my goal of $1400.

Last night I was talking to my family about how lots of people on these blogs are having spending urges at the same time, and I admitted I'm having them too. Maybe because I'm on the cleansing diet, maybe it's the warm weather, but I've been having cravings to just throw in the kitchen towel and have a week of going out to happy hour and dinner every day. I won't, but I want to sometimes.

I was saying that maybe the next infusion of cash could just go to us, for spending, even though I'd been planning that if we got more money from somewhere, it'd go to debt or savings.

AS basically said, "I like spending as much as the next guy, but I really wouldn't mind if the money went to debt--we do want to get rid of that loan that costs us $600 a month as soon as possible." Aww, I was so proud! She actually listens, and reads the blog, and processes the information! I always assume that they leave all this to me and don't really care, so I'm always excited when I get some feedback like that.

Just had to share. Smile Now on to the pile of work that was waiting for me this morning.

Progress on May debt repayment

May 27th, 2009 at 09:34 am

One of AS's student loans hit, with $118 going to principal. $1385 down, just $15 to go. So close! Another AS student loan should hit by Friday and bring us over the top.

I'm on the second day of my mini-cleanse; I'm trying to follow a high-fiber, low-spice, no-processed-foods, no citrus or tomato (yikes!), no-caffeine diet for a week and a half, hoping this will help expedite healing of my chronic condition. Yesterday I had a headache that I attributed to caffeine withdrawal. Last night and today I have more of an all-over body ache (including my head). Is this caffeine withdrawal or something else? I guess I'll know tomorrow depending on whether it goes away or gets worse. I feel rather depressed too, but I'm hoping that's just a result of feeling so weak and achy all over.

Anyway, having friends over tonight, so hopefully that will cheer me up!

Itty bitty teeny weeny step toward May goal

May 26th, 2009 at 09:31 am

I almost didn't post this, but people have been posting about finding pennies, so I feel it's OK to after all!

NT's quarterly student loan payment hit. We have to pay interest on all his loans (I guess because he's a mature student? Not sure) even though he's still in school.

Anyway, I guess they overshot the interest due, because about 50 cents went toward principal. That brought the loan to where I would round down instead of up to the next dollar, so in my official calculations $1 went toward principal. LOL.

$1267 down, $133 to go on the May debt goal.

365 days of dinner: May 5-15, 2009

May 22nd, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Wow, it's been a while! I might have to do some tonight and some tomorrow.

So, going all the way back to Tuesday, May 5, we had "spicy crispy vegan" over rice (one of our old standards).



Wednesday we were over at our friends' house. They served up minted couscous salad and a chickpea-green bean salad:



Thursday, May 7, we had cheese quesadillas with black beans and rice on the side.



Friday we had a quick and easy dinner of storebought veggie burgers and tater tots:



Saturday was another quickie meal, rotini with tomato sauce:



Sunday, May 10, we had a real treat: handmade ravioli a la NT, stuffed with mushrooms and topped with a wine-sundried tomato tomato sauce.


Monday night we had another easy dinner (notice a theme for these weeks?) of Morningstar buffalo wings, lemon-butter broccoli and biscuits:



Tuesday, May 12, we had "Asian roast dinner": Asian-marinated tofu, wasabi mashed potatoes and Szechuan string beans.



And Wednesday we reprised BBQ sandwiches from the Vegan Dad cookbook, along with Gunsmoke Slaw from the cookbook Vegetarian Planet. We had our friend over and it was a big success!




Thursday, May 14, NT made us a spicy, creamy (from coconut milk) chickpea/spinach curry over rice:



Friday, May 15, AS and I teamed up to make a vegan version of chicken 'n' waffles, with corn on the cob. The "chicken" was one of our favorite recipes from Vegan Vittles, Southern-Fried Tofu. We had lots of breading left over, so we'll be having that again soon!



OK, I'm going to stop for the night! I'll try to get caught up the rest of the way tomorrow, but I might be too busy to do until Monday

Reached May savings goal!

May 21st, 2009 at 10:59 am

Today I was able to put $1000 into the vacation fund, so that means I've saved $1740, surpassing my goal of $1700 for this month! As long as we don't have any more bad job news for the next month, I should fully fund the vacation in June. I'm aiming for $3000, but if we do have to scale back, I know we'll still have a good time.

If anyone's been wondering what happened to 365 Days of Dinner, don't worry--I've been taking pictures every night, but I haven't felt like getting them all uploaded here and writing about them, and the more that build up the more I avoid it. LOL! But I have a surprise vacation day tomorrow (yay!), so I'll probably get them all uploaded (or at least get a start and upload a week or so).

I'm considering going on a cleansing diet for a week or two, if my chronic ailment doesn't go away this weekend--it felt like it was getting better for a few days but then it felt a little worse today. I'm thinking going extra-healthy on my food couldn't be a bad thing, so I may try that in addition to my current treatments if it doesn't get better soon. I don't want to drag AS and NT into what will be a pretty boring diet, so we may end up having TWO photos for each night of dinner. Even more incentive to get caught up before then, so I don't get buried in photos!

Another goal was met, though I deserve no credit for it; we bought a variable-speed shower head and NT installed it. It works great and I highly recommend it; it just lets you lower the water pressure while you're lathering up, and then you turn it back to full strength to rinse. We still need to fix the leaky faucet and the thing that turns it on, but that may take more know-how than NT has, so we'll see. These aren't really money-saving for me as our utilities are part of the condo association dues, but our main goal is being more environmentally friendly.

May 2009 net worth update

May 19th, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $4,170
AS's 403(b): $2,888
AS's CD: $500
AS retirement savings: $120
CJ's 401(k): $23,001
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $3,044
---
Total Assets: $489,673

Total Debt: $397,555

Current Estimated Net Worth: $92,118

March 2009 estimate: $88,435

Change in net worth: +$3,683

Summary: While not quite as big a gain as the past two months, this is a healthy increase; a combination of increased savings, debt reduction and market recovery.

I will update my "Individual Net Worth" page shortly so you can see how it breaks out.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are conservative, and retirement totals don't include amounts currently unvested. I don't have a way to check NT's UK pensions or flat value, so their values stay static for the purpose of this update. UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $2 for every British pound, which was the exchange rate when I started keeping track. I maintain that ratio for the purpose of tracking progress, even though the exchange rate is now closer to $1.50 per British pound.

Furlough is confirmed

May 19th, 2009 at 10:45 am

NT's work won't meet the necessary profit margin in May, so there will definitely be 10 days of furlough. (If I understand the e-mail he sent me, higher-up employees just have to take temporary pay cuts, so they don't get the days off to go with the lost wages. I count NT lucky then!)

Two weeks' lost wages is about equal to $1232 net. (It will probably be a slightly smaller loss than that, net, because they'll withhold slightly less taxes.) So we're cutting $400 of discretionary spending and the remaining $832 or so I'll siphon from what we would be saving for the EF.

No word on furloughs or layoffs at my job so far; fingers crossed.

I've actually been pondering what to do with some PTO days I have that I won't need for our summer vacation; now I've decided to take them on some of NT's furlough days. His company is having everyone take off Thursday July 2 and every Friday from July 10 to Sept. 4. It's actually the most pleasant way to do furloughs, if you have to have them! So I'll give myself several three-day weekends this summer, and get to spend them with NT and hopefully AS.

AS has decided to start applying for jobs again, while still trying to build her sewing business. She thinks in this crunch time, if she could find a job, we'd be a lot better off. The sewing business could be viable, we all believe, but it will build slowly as clientele and word-of-mouth do, and as she starts to develop a product line for an online store. So she's going to keep regular employment an option by applying for jobs in the meantime.

If she does get a job, she'll still be able to work on sewing, just not as much, so in that case she would focus more on the designing and production of original clothing rather than the piecework that's currently her main source of income (besides unemployment compensation).

It's a confusing time, and a confusing situation to be in, so I won't be surprised if there's some going back and forth and changes of heart along the way, but some great-sounding job opportunities opened up recently and I think that's what swayed her toward applying again (and I think my frustration at paying the minimum on debt is rubbing off as well, though I didn't want it to).

Expensive but fun weekend

May 18th, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I'm still marveling at how much money we spent this weekend--but it was all planned and budgeted for, so I don't feel bad about any of it.

First we rented a car--$100 (we budget for 1 car rental per month). Then we went to a bunch of yard sales--about $60 of our personal spending money (though some was materials for AS's sewing business, so that will get deducted from that account). After that we ran around to a few stores--$320 for groceries (we took advantage of the car and really stocked up)--we used up most of our household budget for May, but we won't need very much for the next couple weeks, and in June our CSA starts delivering fresh produce, so our grocery bills will get much smaller for the rest of the summer and fall. Then to a sushi restaurant--$100 of our spending money. Sunday we went to a few stores and bought about $200 of home improvement things, which we still had money set aside for--we got paint, storage containers, a stepstool and a low-flow shower head among other things. All told, we spend almost $800 in two days--wow!

What's just as remarkable as our spending that much is the fact that we had the money in the bank and in hand. There were many times in my life when a weekend like this would have been a guilty splurge, with me taking a deep breath and blindly waving a credit card everywhere we went.

The next few weeks should be cheap but equally fun. We don't have any more big spending planned for a while.

Another May debt payment

May 15th, 2009 at 08:43 am

One of AS's student loans, with $79 to principal. $1266 down, $134 to go on my May goal.

Ugh, paying the minimums on everything is so depressing. I found out today that NT's bus pass for summer semester may be covered by surplus student loan money in his account. If so, I'm going to put that $84 I saved up into an extra payment on my personal loan.

I may also pay extra on the personal loan in June or July, if my savings goals look on track. When that loan is gone, it will free up over $600 per month. Unfortunately I still owe more than $10K on it, so it's not going away anytime soon. I was going to just pay the minimum on it, but it's driving me crazy, so I may rework my budget to try and find some extra money to throw at it.

OK, must stop rambling obsessively and get back to work! (I actually have work to do today, which is encouraging!)

Progress on May debt repayment, random news

May 14th, 2009 at 08:33 am

My personal loan payment hit--$544 went to principal. That's $1187 down, $213 to go on my May goal.

Google must have heard me complimenting it in my last few blog entries, because it won't come up (first time in memory) and I can't access my beloved spreadsheets to update them with this info. Grr...

I've been doing terribly on my goals this month, other than the easy, automatic ones. I've had a chronic, not dangerous but really distracting and demoralizing condition since early March, and recently I've just sort of hit a wall where I don't feel like doing anything above the minimum required of me (go to work, cook dinner, etc.) until I get better. Consequently I haven't felt like being outgoing (going to board meeting), or energetic (trying out my workout game), or creative (doing my art projects). Month is only half over, so if I have a stunning recovery, we'll see.

We've been renting a car once a month (starting last month), and it's been really fun! We run errands, go places we normally couldn't, visit friends with a 15-minute drive vs. hourlong bus ride. This weekend we're renting one and plan to go yardsaling and running errands Saturday, then to a party on Sunday.

It's been dead slow for me at work for about two weeks. This past Tuesday I had 0 billable time. I'm trying not to worry, but I just overheard the woman in the office across from me talking on the phone about rumblings of something coming down the pipeline, perhaps furloughs? If I get furloughs and NT gets furloughs, I wonder if we're going to have to cut more spending than previously thought. Well, better than layoffs! I hope it's just furloughs, if it's anything more than baseless gossip...

Progress on May savings goal

May 7th, 2009 at 10:19 am

I put $500 into vacation savings, and (unexpectedly) NT sold a textbook for $30 and I put that in the textbook savings fund. (We're trying to break even on textbooks from now on and not spend any new money, just the money we make from reselling.)

$740 down, $960 to go on my savings goal!

Personal finance tools: No. 4 - Fun-Money Savings

May 6th, 2009 at 09:18 am

Actually, this tool's name is now a misnomer, I realize. It's just a savings worksheet.

I keep all my savings in one account and use this worksheet to remember what amounts are earmarked for which purposes. If I have a goal date, I note that on the spreadsheet.



I opened a savings account that's linked to my checking account; it has no minimum balance and makes it easy to transfer funds in and out of my checking account. Initially this was going to be for saving up money for various wants. Now that I've started an emergency fund, and started saving for AS's retirement since she has no job-sponsored plan, the account serves many purposes.

We also started having a surplus in the UK account this month, so I'm going to track that savings account and add it to the emergency-fund amount. It is accessible if an emergency does come up; it will just take a bit more effort to get to it.

That's the last of the personal finance tools I use all the time and consider essential. I've started spreadsheets to plan and track saving and spending for a specific vacation or project, and I have a spreadsheet where I'm going to track our individual net worth. Basically, any part of your financial life that you want more control over, an Excel spreadsheet can help you do that.

And I highly recommend putting them all in Google docs, because you can access them from anywhere, you don't have to worry about your hard drive breaking and losing everything, and it's a completely free method, unlike some budgeting software. Sure, you have to enter all the info yourself, but I feel like that makes me more involved in the day-to-day activity of my money, so I think it's a good thing.