Saturday, May 30, 2009

Summer cookin'

Andy and I have had a great day. We slept in, made pancakes, went the gym, took Eli on a long walk, and then fired up the grill for lunch. We broke in slider kit, and had the burgers with zucchini chips and watermelon with balsamic mint dressing. YUM!!

Zucchini Chips
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 egg
1/2 c panko bread crumbs
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Beat egg and season with salt and pepper. Put panko bread crumbs in a separate bowl. Coat zucchini in egg, then press into bread crumbs. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning once, until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt. Serve with lemon garlic aioli and ketchup.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Payday Friday

Wahoo, it's payday Friday! Andy gets paid once a month, and I get paid on the 15th and 30th, so it's always a treat when the stars line up and the last workday of the month is a Friday and we both get paid.

We've been pretty good money managers throughout life, but we are about to get a lot better. We graduated college with zero credit card debt (notice I didn't say debt...our Sallie Mae bill is scary!) and we've always been big savers. However, as we prepare for family life with little ones (no, not yet!), we realize we need to be more proactive in our budgeting. We always made budgets, with way over-estimated expenditures for some categories and not enough for others. Clearly not the best. In the past, I would get freaked out about money, add up and categorize everything we spent in a month or two, and the proceed to shout useless things like "How can we go to the grocery store 35 times in a month?! That is more than once a day" and "I do not need to be the number one Target shopper in Indiana...we have got to stop spending so much money there!". But, when next month came, we'd do it all again. We did set a weekly Target budget and I've been good about that, but I realize that we can do better.

So, after hearing the success of several friends, we signed up for Mvelopes, a "proactive approach to spending management. It's basically the envelope budgeting system set up for a credit card and electronic bill pay society. And it is fabulous!! We've already done better about our dining out and grocery budget. And with our surprise expense of a trip to the emergency vet, we were able to identify which areas we could take money from to put in our pet envelope. There's all kinds of cool features I have yet to discover, like mobile access and net worth tracking (sounds fancy!). I really think this site will be able to help us spend less, save more, and help me be a little less neurotic about our spending. And less neuroses are better for everyone here at the Bungalow.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Present Picks: Father's Day

I absolutely love giving gifts. There's something so satisfying about thinking, researching, purchasing, and wrapping the perfect gift and then watching a loved one's face as the open it. I spend weeks, if not months, thinking about what to get someone. Then, once I purchase it, I have to go find the perfect coordinating wrapping paper. We do not paper bags here, unless things are a really awkward shape. And there is always, always a bow involved.

My older brother and my dad are the two hardest people to shop for. My brother is because he literally has everything and the only thing he wants is something big, so he always asks for gift cards. I hate giving gift cards...they seem so impersonal and unwelcoming and they aren't very much fun to wrap. My dad never seems to like anything he gets. He opens every gift and then goes, "Hmmm." It's not that he doesn't like it, he's just a man of few words. But he does return an astonishing amount of gifts.

But this year, I found the perfect gift for my brother's birthday and my dad for Father's Day. They both love to grill, so I got them this fabulous slider kit from Sur La Table, one of my favorite stores. How perfect is this?!? It contains a burger press, a bun cutter to make the buns just the right size, and a grill basket so the little burgers don't fall through the grill. And, it comes with a great price tag: $45!

Andy was with me when we picked these up at Sur, and he about died he was so excited. So we had to get one for him, too. Hopefully we'll get a chance to break it in this weekend!

I gave my brother his on Memorial Day weekend (his birthday present this year was not having to have a family party, LOL). He really liked it! He's excited to make sliders because he thinks my niece, who is 4, will really get a kick out of the "baby burgers." She definitely will!!

For those of you with dads, husbands, or other special men in your life...what are you getting them for Father's Day?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wedding Wednesday: Venues

129 days to go!!! Andy and will getting married here on October 3, 2009:
Isn't it beautiful?? I can't wait. This is the Rotunda at the State House, and I absolutely fell in love with this place. We aren't connected to any one church, and a lot of churches around here aren't that pretty. I love politics, so the idea of getting married in the hub of state politics is kinda exciting (don't tell Andy). Also, it's just beautiful and classy and elegant and wonderful and perfect.

Afterwards, we'll head over to the State Museum for our reception.
Our cocktail hour will be outside along the canal, and dinner/dancing will be just inside the glass doors. Isn't it amazing? I love how beautiful this space is. I really wanted to pick places that we could enjoy and not cover up. I also didn't want a typical banquet style room.
I feel like our venues really set the tone for the whole day. Beautiful, classic, elegant....everything I want our day to say. I can't think of any better place to say I Do and dance the night away.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Getting ready for tomorrow's post

With all things wedding! Here's a sneak peak and somethings we've picked out for the wedding

A maven momemnt

What is a maven you ask? Well, being one myself, of course I’d love to tell you about them!

Maxwell Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, describes mavens as one of the three types of people responsible for trends spreading, along with connectors and salespeople. Andy was given this book by a mentor, and while reading it, he frantically called me over because it was describing me to a T. Mavens are “intense gathers of information.” I’ve used the term “information obsessed” to describe me before, and it really fits quite well. Mavens know everything about everything, and LOVE to share it with everyone.

Part of the reason why I started this blog is that I wanted to be more connected in my Maven-ness. I wanted to take all this information I amass and share it with everyone. Even though I’m introverted, I approach strangers all the time to offer unsolicited advice (oops). Of course, I stay away from controversial topics, but the other day in Target I heard a lady and her husband in the storage and organization aisle looking for a particular product. Knowing that Target did not carry it, I had to let her know that, but also tell her that she can order it online from the Container Store, and give her a coupon code for 20%! Or the person in front of me makes a joke about buying 30 bottles of sparking water, but I have to let her know how great they are and give her one of mine that I purchased so she can try it herself. I just can’t help myself. Hopefully this will allow me to release some of this information so I can stop going up to random strangers at stores, but, let’s be honest….probably not!

So, being a new homeowner, one of my favorite topics to discuss is advice on buying a home. Here are the top three lessons and tips we learned along the way:

Take your time. Don’t let anyone rush you. Not your realtor, not the sellers, not even the impending move-out date of your lease. It took us 11 months to find The Bungalow. If you rush, you will settle. This is the biggest purchase of your life, and make sure to take the time to make it right.

Expand your search area. I think this could have been a potential biggest mistake homeowners make. Everyone tells you to make a “must have” list and don’t deviate from it. Well, that wasn’t really realistic for us, and I encourage you to go look at houses with specs AND locations that may not exactly meet your must-have list, but they can give you a better idea of what you can live it. I thought for SURE two bathrooms was a must-have, but we ended up with a one, and really, it’s fine. Try a little bit outside of your comfort area and see what you like! We looked at so many different types (new construction, town homes, Victorian-style houses, cottages, detached town homes, subdivisions, and everything in between) of houses in a lot of areas (6 school districts), we really could make an educated decision

Know what you can afford. And the follow-up…don’t let anyone tell you different. Even me, LOL (this is for my cousin)! I think we were approved for more than THREE TIMES the amount we used. That gives me palpitations just even thinking about having a mortgage so much more than what we have. I know The Wise say that you can afford it as long as you keep your PITI (principle, interest [mortgage payment], taxes, and insurance) to around 30% of your gross income. Well, to me, that’s just nuts. I’m comfortable around 10 to 15%, which is where we are now. If you don’t have a budget and these numbers are making your head spin, get one ASAP! We wanted to something that we could afford on one salary (even though pharmacy is a pretty recession-proof career), and honestly, we didn’t need a 3500 sq ft house. Our little 1300 sq ft bungalow works for us just as well. And don’t forgot that PITI isn’t your only monthly obligation…there are utilities, home owner dues, set-up costs, maintenance, etc. It adds up fast!

A word on financing…
This is one of my FAVORITE things to talk about because we were able to get such a great deal and I want all of you to have it as well! First, when figuring what you can afford keep in mind how much cash you need on had for earnest money (which you submit with you offer), down payment, and closing. The Wise tell you that you need 20% down to avoid PMI (private mortgage insurance), you can’t get a conventional loan for less than 5% down, and if you do a FHA loan, it’s hard to get a property and you still have to put 3.5% down.

Well, we were able to get a conventional loan that only required a 3% down payment, one mortgage at a low rate, and NO PMI! I feel like half the time people don’t believe us, but my employer’s credit union has a fantastic first time home-buyers program. The only stipulation was that the amount financed had to be less than $200,000, which was a little less than what we thought we’d spend, but definitely do-able. Be sure to check around and find the best time for you. No one else will do it for you! And I really have to hand it to the credit unions for the best deals. Find some that you can join and see what they have to offer!

In the end, we ended up putting 5% down, but with the way things worked out at closing the only cash we had to pay was 1% of the purchase price that we used for the earnest money and that was it! Less than $2k and we had a house with 5% equity and netted $6k with the $8k First Homebuyer’s Tax Credit, as we closed in March 2008 and were able to claim the house on our 2009 taxes and have the check by May when our first mortgage payment was due. Not a bad deal at all!

Good luck, and most importantly – have fun! This is something very exciting and wonderful, and you only get to do it a few times in your life. Here's a great resource to get you started on your search. Enjoy it!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Fun

What a great holiday weekend! On Sunday, we slept in and had a great breakfast in the backyard while we finished our books from the day before. We had a crustless quiche (asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, and fontina cheese), fruit salad, and Andy's homemade biscuits:

We are so fortunate to live in a great area. Just a block from The Bungalow we have a Fresh Market, 2 coffee shops, a newstand, florist, about 6 restaurants, and several other little shops. Less than a mile up the road is a Village that has tons of great restaruants and shops. We took Eli up to the the Village, and we went into a few shops and stopped for a GIANT sno cone for the walk home. Eli was a little too poped out to finish the walk home, though, so Andy had to carry him:
We puttered around the house, worked out, and ran a few errands. We had a "date night" where we made a special dinner. I had been swooning over the bread I saw on the Pioneer Woman, and we made that, along with with a pasta dish inspired by her lemon pasta and the Smitten Kitchen's asparagus, lemon and goat cheese pasta. It was a delish meal!!
Please note the clearance sticker on the bottle of wine, LOL. Let's take a close look at that pasta:
Today we went over to Momma Smith's for a cook out with the family. I was request to bring mac & cheese and chocolate chip cookies:
Here's today's recipe --- Simple Baked Mac & Cheese
16 oz cavatappi pasta, cooked and drained
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups 1% milk
2 dried bay leaves
1/2 onion, cut in half again
3 garlic cloves
1 1/3 lbs of cheese, grated -- I used 1/2 lb of 75% reduced fat Cabot White Cheeder, 1/2 lb Jack, and 1/3 lb Gruyere
Salt and pepper
Panko bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 375. Cook pasta and set aside. In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Meanwhile, place milk in a sauce pan over medium-low heat and allow to scald. Once butter is melted, sprinkle flour and whisk into a roux. Let roux cook for 3-5 minutes until it reaches a tan color. Slowly whisk in milk. Add bay leaves, onion, and garlic and allow to simmer over medium for 15 minutes. Remove bay leaves, onion, and garlic, then stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Place pasta in a large baking dish sprayed with Pam, then add cheese sauce and stir. Top with Panko bread crumbs (be generous!). Bake pasta for 30 minutes, or until to top has begun to brown. To reheat, cover with foil and place in a 350 degree oven until warmed through.
I've tried many, many recipes but I've come to find this one is truly the best. Now, this version is called "simple" because it doesn't contain anything but the mac and cheese at the end, making it more kid-friendly than my "fancy" version. However, the bay leaves, garlic, and onion really give the sauce great depth that the grown-ups enjoy.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A winery, burger, and a trip to the emergency vet

Sounds like your typical Saturday, eh?

We decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and head down to Oliver Winery. It's a great local vineyard about an hour south of us. They make some fabulous wines, with my favorites being Oliver Soft Red and Skyy Dog Red. We packed up a picnic and the pup, and left town around noon. Can you tell how excited Eli is?

Once we arrived we realized about 200 other people had the same idea. The tasting areas were so packed, we grabbed the first bottle that sounded good, Oliver Harvest Watermelon and picked out our spot by the pond. We wasted no time setting up the picnic.

YUM!!! We had pasta salad (recipe below), potato salad, fruit salad, hummus, cucumbers, Laughing Cow cheese, crackers, and salami. The picnic was my excuse to make pasta salad, one of my favorite foods. I love it in part because you can make it with whatever you have on hand. Here's today's version:
Pasta Salad
8 oz penne pasta
4 oz sliced baby bella mushrooms
8-10 asparagus stalks, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
1/2 red onion, large dice
10-15 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp + 1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 c shredded parmesan
Fresh oregano, basil, and parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of water to boil, salt, and add pasta. While pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp olive oil, mushrooms, asparagus, and red onion. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until veggies are soft and onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Remove heat, add tomatoes. Meanwhile, in the bottom of a large mixing bowl, add red wine vinegar and dijon mustard. Grate garlic cloves into vinegar mixture. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Add herbs (whatever you have on hand is fine). Toss pasta with dressing immediately after cooking. Add veggies. Cool to room temperature, then add cheese (ricotta salada would have been perfect with this, but ours was not looking too good and wound up in the trash). Refrigerate.
After lunch, we settled into some reading. Andy was finishing up Brave New World and I was just starting Breaking Dawn.
We stayed for a few hours, and by the time we left nearly everyone had met Eli. He was more of a hit than the Soft Red for a quite a few people!
For a late dinner after the fabulous picnic, we decided to have burgers.
I had some simple Omaha Steak burgers defosted, so I decided to dress up the outside with sliced tomato, Gorgonzola cheese, carmelized onions and dijon mustard. With asparagus on the side, it was a perfect summer meal. Or it would have been....until we monentarily turned our backs and Eli scarfed down the asparagus, burger toppings, and half a burger. After first flipping out about the couch and scrubbing it furiously (whoever invented microfiber upholstry is seriously on my list of the Top Ten Coolest People Ever), I realized what was on that burger. Onions....which are toxic to dogs. And all the other things Eli ate, which wouldn't be a problem for most dogs. But Eli is a High Maitenance Dog. He has food allergies, and he reacts to everything but his special d/d dog food. Everything. Including organic, unpeeled, unwashed (by the producer...washed at home for sure) carrots (we tried). So not only would he have a potentially toxic reaction to the onions, he would have an allergic reaction to all the food.
Approximately 5 seconds later we were on the phone with the emergency vet and were told to bring Eli in immediately. The vet did her thing (I'll spare you the details!), and warned us Eli would be lethargic the rest of the night, but should be okay and keep an eye on him (specifically, his gums) for the next 5-6 days. Lethargic my butt....he's currently running in circles around the house, so I'd say he's making a fine recovery.
Whew, what a day! Here's hoping tomorrow is slightly less eventful.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My first foodie post!!

There is one very important thing to know about us here at The Bungalow---we love food. Pretty much all boxed and premade food is banned (with Easy Mac being a key exception....because, really, who wants to live without Easy Mac?). Every dinner and lunch is made from scratch. In fact, right now I am enjoying a late lunch of homemade baked potato soup. I probably made this two months ago and froze it for a day like this, when I need something fast.

For the inaugral foodie post, we will do not one but THREE recipes!! YAY! These are from Fajita Night on Monday.

Guacamole, aka "The Best Food Ever"

Guac is one of my most-complimeted recipes, and I do have to agree that it's fabulous. This recipe came about after many, many experimentations, and is very flexible to omissions, deletions, increases, and decreases in ingredients. It's all about how it feels. And tastes. Here's what I used Monday night:

3 avocados (when cooking for a crowd, I usually allow 1 avocado per person)
2 roma tomatoes
1/2 red onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 jalapeno peppers (actually, on Monday Fresh Market was out of jalepenos so I subbed 1 serrano pepper)
2 limes
Sea salt

Halve avacadoes, remove goodnessy green stuff. Mash with fork until it reaches desired consistency (Andy likes his chunky, I like mine smooth. Hehe.). Add the juice of two limes, both for flavor and to help prevent oxidation (or as you non-science people know it as, "Make it stop turning brown!"). Halve tomatoes, removing seeds. Dice tomatoes, onion, and jalepenoes, and add to avocado mixture. Finely dice garlic, then add sea salt to it. Mash into a paste. This ensures that the garlic will evenly distribute throughout the guac and you won't bite into a big piece of garlic (but would that really be so bad?). Add to avocado mixture. Chop cilatro and add. Stir, taste, and add additinal salt if needed.

Guac tip: to store leftover guac (if this is even a possibility at your place!!), place in a Ziploc bag, and squish out all the air. This will help prevent it from oxidizing.



2, 28 oz cans of San Marzano whole tomatoes, drained
2 cans of Rotel, drained
1 large Vidala onion
2 limes
2 jalepeno peppers
3 garlic cloves

Yes, you must cough up the $3/can and buy San Marzanos. It will change your life, and you will never touch a can of Hunts tomatoes again.

Using an imersion blender, chop up the whole tomatoes and place in a bowl. Add drained Rotel. Ask your fiance why we chop up the tomatoes, then add diced tomatoes....would it make more sense to not chop tomatoes as finely? Receive The Look from your fiance, and tell him never to question your cooking abilities again.

Add onion, jalepenos, cilantro, and garlic to a food prcoessor. Pulse until it reaches a fine dice. Add to tomato mixture. Add the juice of two limes. Add salt to taste. Proceed to eat salsa on everything for the rest of the week.

Spanish Rice (adapted from The Joy of Cooking, aka The Bible)
This is probably one of my favorite recipes from Joy. I hated buying those mixes of Spanish rice, and once I tried this recipe I knew I would never have to do so again.

Spanish Rice
1 tsp vegetable oil
3 slices of center cut bacon, minced
1/2 large Vidala onion
1/2 large green bell pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup minute brown rice
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
2 cans of Rotel, drained
1/2 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Add oil and bacon to an oven proof skillet with a lid. My trusty Le Creuset buffet casserole works fabulous for this! Cook, stirring as needed, until bacon begins to brown. Add onion and bell pepper, cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir, and cook until onion is translucent. Add brown rice, and stir until well coated. Cook for 5 minutes. Add and bring to a boil remaining ingredients. Stir, cover, and transfer to oven. Bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender (25 minutes). Uncover and let stand for 5 minutes before serving (great time to throw tortillas wrapped in foil in the oven if you are serving this with fajitas).

Here's what our spread look like on Monday:

YUM!!! This was enough for two hungry diners, 4 lunches, and a few of Andy's "salsa salads"--salsa and crushed up tortilla chips. He's weird.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Food Poisoning...YUCK!

So last night, I was so excited to blog about the awesome Belgium restaurant we went to celebrate my friend Laurie's birthday. However, at 2 am I woke up with an awful stomach ache and was up most of the night and morning. I hope it wasn't from Brugge, since it is such a great place, and just from my overall sucky GI tract.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Adventures in Registering

I love registering. I kinda wish I could do it every day. I've had my china picked out before I met Fiance (who does not like registering).
In the spirit of getting my tasks done as soon as possible, we first started registering in February. First on the list: Vera Wang Grosgrain China!! Have you seen anything more beautiful?! It's perfect. It has my two favorite "patterns": stripes and dots (which you will see a bunch throughout the wedding planning). It's simple, elegant, and PERFECT! I cannot wait to cook a Thanksgiving dinner to serve on these beautiful plates. I know some poeple think china isn't contempary enough for the "millenials", but I disagree. I love cooking and presenting the perfect dinner, and there really isn't a better way to do it than on china. I hope we use them weekly for special dinners!

Since my mom wasn't with us, on our next trip to the mall I took her to go see the wonderfulness of Vera. This visit happened to coincide with a Macy's home sale, so that lead to my mom going nuts and purchasing our first two place settings and soup bowls! YES!! We now have china for Fiance and I, but you need to BYOC if you come over for dinner, at least until August when the showering starts.

This weekend Fiance and I went finished up most of the registry. He gets to hold the scanner, and wander off while I was comparing shades of white and ivory for about 20 minutes. This 20 minute debate lead to at least an hour on Monday of cleaning up the registry after he scanned whatever he could find. My favorite:
Because, really, who doesn't need a 5 foot tall popcorn maker?! Maybe I should leave it on just to see if anyone is crazy enough to purchase it for us....thoughts?

All things 55th Street!

Here's the place to find info about what's going on in the Smith-Schmelz house! Right now were are floating between wedding planning and home fixing-up, but hopefully I'll still manage to cook a few good meals to show case here as well.

The Bungalow