Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mint.com

I want to share my biggest budgeting secret with you.  Actually, it's really not a secret since I tell everyone who will listen about it.

Anyways, it's Mint.com.  Mint is this completely and totally awesome website that will allow you to link all of your accounts from credit cards to checking accounts to savings to 401K to car financing to student loans.  I can keep going but I'll spare you and let you discover it for yourself. 

The best part is that you don't have to go and label everything or download things every week/month.  It loads everything from your accounts and takes the best guess at labeling the transactions.


I won't show you our spending but here's a sample.  You can let Mint go ahead and label all these for you, or you can even create your own personalized labels!  Jon and I have set "fun" budgets that we also track under "Shopping".   Then when you're all done having fun labeling your transactions, you can go over to the next tab - Planning.


Okay.  This is a bit embarrassing.  You see, the red means that you spent more than you budgeted for.  I seriously promise that I have good reason.  Like mortgage - well...there isn't anything I can do about that one.  Sometimes it hits a couple days early but it'll straighten out after next month.  And The gas thing...yeah.  Ugh, apparently we drive a lot but we have all these weddings and babies to see.  Anyways.  Yellow means that you're almost at the limit.  This is good for us most times.  Green means you have room to spend.  There are like 25 other accounts below that you don't see - there are more green lines, I swear.

In any case, the Planning tab lets you set up budgets for the month and points out how much savings you'll have.  When you first get started Mint even hints at the budgets you should set up based on your spending averages.  Yeah.  It's that good.

In addition to those, there is a Trend tab that allows you to compare to previous months overall or by certain labels.  It also lets you view pie charts, bar charts, whatever you want charts.  It lets you view items by month or compare them to regional and national trends.  You can click on pieces and it'll take you over to the Transaction tab to show you what makes up each label.

Next there is an Investment and Ways to Save tab that shows your credit cards, 401k accounts, etc that let you view other ways that you see other ways you can save by switching to more points or cash backs or whatever.  I think this is how they make their money but it's still kind of really cool.

The first tab lets you view summaries of all that in one place.   It also e-mails you notifications like when it's time to pay your bills or when you're over the budget.   It's great like that.  I love it.  I check it daily.  The end.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My really cool stuff

I got a couple questions about some items I use so here they are:

My totally awesome onion goggles that protect you from tears while cutting up onions and keep you looking fashionable.

There are options for colors.  Mine are pink.  Because I love pink.

This is where they make an appearance:

Vareniki, kinda like Pirogis








And this is the Cuisinart Smart Stick thingy that you can use as a mini food processor, chopper, masher, and many other fun things.


It is, indeed, as awesome as it looks.  I got mine at Macy's but for slightly more than amazon offers.  If I could live in Amazon.com, I would.

Vareniki, kinda like Pirogis








Finally, the hand mixer.

It's really not very pricey at all, but I just love the snap-on case that it comes with.  I'm a total neat-freak and it allows me to put everything back together into a compact little case that snaps right onto the mixer. It even hides the cord! Yes, it's that awesome.

I think I use it in every recipe, but here's the oatmeal cookies and brownies ones.
Oatmeal Cookies
Cream Cheese Brownies 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When you can't decide on hair, eat cookies.

I don't know if I've ever mentions this before, but I live with a cookie monster.  Yup.  A real life cookies monster.  When there are cookies in the house, he can be found with his hand in the cookie jar, or rather, the pantry where we keep cookies.  When there are no cookies, he can be found moping around, looking for cookies, sighing loudly.

The cookie monster's favorite cookies are oatmeal cookies.  So today, I made oatmeal cookies because, frankly, I love my cookie monster and I don't like to see him moping around.

 Here's what you need for very simple, but delicious oatmeal cookies:
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed ground sugar
1/2 cup butter or stick margarine, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup raisins, chopped nuts, semisweet chocolate chips or whatever else your little heart desires.  I'll be using chocolate chips and craisins.




Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Beat all ingredients except oats, flour and whatever deliciousness you decided on in a large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with a spoon.
Now, listen carefully because this is important. If you want perfect cookies, you need to make sure that your butter/margarine is about room temperature.  If it's too soft, then your cookies will be watery looking and flat.  And if you over-measure the flour, your cookies will be hard.  So careful with your butter and measurements - they matter!  Also, on a side-note, you can substitute spread, but you want it to be at least 65% vegetable oil.

Once that's nice and mixed, add the oats, flour and whatever yummies you dreamed up last night.

I'm splitting mine into two batches and using chocolate chips in one and craisins in the other.

Mix it all in.

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet.


These are really awesome.








I really want one, but I don't have one.  Because the cookies monster won't get up this instant and find me one.  Granted, I always forget I want one when I'm out shopping, but it's totally the cookie monster's fault. *Sigh*  I make due with a tablespoon measuring scoop and a tablespoon.

I guess it works just fine.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until brown.
 Looks about right.

Yup, that's just right.


Now promptly remove them from the cookie sheet and put on a wire rack.  My cookie monster did get me one of those.  What a thoughtful cookie monster.

And speaking of cookie monsters,
There was a sighting of one on the couch.

Evidence indicates that the disappearing cookies from the wire rack were in his posession.

He looks a bit guilty, doesn't he?  Or happy?  I can't tell.  Maybe he's just content to be reading his book and eating cookies.  Who knows.  Cookie monsters are complex beings.

As are cookie monster wanna-be's.

Hair advice

Hi my name is Kat and I'm addicted to changing my hair.

I can't ever decide what to do with it and what's worse is that now our well water is out to get any blond hi-lights that make an appearance on my head.

Anyways, it's been about 2 months since I've last changed my hair and I'm getting antsy.  I need opinions.  Here are some previous hair-do's and colors. Please weigh in.  Thank you.

Most recent, and most daring, brown hair:

Pro: I love the way it makes my hazel eyes stand out; Con: After 2 weeks it always looks red-ish due to my natural hair color which is blond.  Plus I'm a little scared of what it will look like when it starts to grow out.


Previously blond hair...although it's a bit longer now.  This is what happens with well water so please keep that in mind when making your decision.  Also, feel free to comment with ways to fix our water that doesn't require me to spend my life savings and then some:

This is a little bit before - so less well water, but still the same. I think:

Really short and still blond:
Pro: I love the way short hair looks when it's styled - almost as if I actually have oodles of hair; Con: After 2 weeks, it doesn't look like that anymore.  Hair cuts are not cheap, at least not good ones!

And finally, long and blond.  Please remember how impatient I am. Also, these are from forever and a half ago, which means I probably won't look just like this.  You know, because I'm getting old and stuff like that.

Pro: I love, love, love the variety of things I can do with long hair.  In fact, I just love long hair.  My goal is to someday leave it alone and grow it long. Cons: Hi, have we met? I have 0 patience.  Hence, this post.  And to grow it this long means leaving it alone.  For like, a  year or more.  Hi, have we met?  Also, the well water.  Also, unless I put energy into it or it's up, it looks really really really thin - which in fact, it is. 

So there you have it folks.  Please vote on two items: hair color and hair length.  Thank you.  In return I promise to someday do the same.

Polls are on the right-hand side under "About Me".

Monday, April 26, 2010

Chicken with spinach & artichokes

I'm obviously on an artichoke kick lately. I blame Pioneer Woman and her ridiculously amazing recipes.  A friend found this recipe for Goat Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Chicken.  I was excited about making this and went to the store to get all the ingredients and then my husband informed me that he would rather stick needles in his eyes than eat goat cheese.  I sulked for a minute or two, and then decided to alter the recipe so he didn't have to stick needles in his eyes.



I cut the chicken breasts into strips and threw it on a skillet to brown a bit.  Some salt, pepper, and a bit of cayenne pepper adds some deliciousness to it.

Give it 3-5 minutes and flip them over.
Try not to get burned with the hot oil.  That's what I almost always do.

In the meantime, I drain some artichokes and layed them out to dry a bit more.

Then warmed and drained the spinach.  I throw all that stuff into the skillet with the chicken.

Then add some red wine vinegar and chicken stock. Mush it all up and throw it in a casserole dish. (You can totally use one of those awesome stove-top to oven skillets, but I don't have any.  Feel free to send one my way.)

This went in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes (you can check the chicken temperature about 175 degrees).

While that's cooking, I made some boil-in-a-bag rice.

So, after all this, we decided that the rice was a bit blend.  Next time I'm thinking of putting some chicken stock in it or some spices.  Maybe even a long-grain rice instead.  Learn from my mistakes, people.  That's what I'm here for.

Put a bit of rice on a plate, top with deliciousness from the oven.  Enjoy.

When's graduation?

I'm having a hard time returning to the real world after our vacation so I've been trying to figure out what the heck.  And then, the other night, another sleepless night, it dawned on me.  And now, allow me to bore you with my theories.

The first year out of college was amazing.  I moved out on my own and with a cute boy, I had a stable job, and there was no more homework!  I was in heaven.  We worked all day and went out at night.  We cooked our first meals and stayed up on weekends.  We traveled to distant cities or remote towns for work, went out to dinners on the company bill and tried various foods.


By the end of the first year things started to get a bit stale.  Traveling seemed to take over my life, I was working overtime, and the places we went out seemed to have all these college kids running around, and, well, we were old!

I spent endless nights trying to figure out why I was so unhappy all of a sudden and then I got it!  It was our first summer without a summer vacation.  We spent the past 16 years going through life working our tails off for 9 months and then partying for 3.  In high school and college most of us worked during the summer, but it was a break from the usual routine and so we never minded.  This summer was the first one without a change in the routine.

After we figured that out and all agreed that it sucked, we decided to move with our lives.  And we did.

So our 5th summer is approaching and I can't figure out what's going on.  I am used to working through the summers now, although I still hate seeing the sun out my window and knowing I can't participate.  But, like I said, I got it.  It's the first time that there's no graduation!

We went to High School for 4 years, graduated, celebrated and then moved on to greener pastures - college.  It was going to be the first time we wouldn't have to get up at 6am, we get to choose classes we want to take, and got to live in dorms!

College lasted 4 years for me and after 4 years we graduated.  We celebrated and moved out.  We got real jobs and lived on our own.

Queue this year.  This is the first year with no graduation or huge changes.  We worked our tails off, with no summer vacations!  And after 4 years, there is no graduation!  There is no big ceremony to celebrate our achievement.   There is no big party.  There is no huge change forcing us to take a leap of faith and the next step. 

Don't get me wrong, we are progressing in our careers, we got married, we bought a house.  But after 4 years, it's still the same real world.  What's next?  Where's my next green pasture?  Where's my celebration?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lucy

When I was younger, my parents never let me get a puppy.  However when I was in High School, they finally gave in to our ongoing nagging and decided to get a cat.  Yup.  You didn't misread that at all.  Because, as we all know, cats are just like dogs.  Except they're not dogs.  I guess it was better than a hamster, so I wasn't complaining.

My sister and I spent all day practically floating on air and contemplating names.  We finally settles on Iris.  In Russian we would call her Iriska, my favorite caramel chewy candy.  It was short, sweet, and perfect for our new kitty.

One of my sister's friends had kittens so we went to pick one out to take home.   We spent almost an hour playing with all the little kittens and I finally settles on a cute little one with a tiny white spot.  My sister, on the other hand, settled on a completely different one and because she cried while I didn't, her choice won.  On the way home, we coo'd and snuggled our new kitten.  When we got home, my mom took one look and decided that she looked like a Lucy.  And just like that, our kitten's new name was Lucy.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Everyone in Russia is named Bob

When we were younger, my best friend and I used to be very cruel and mean.  We also loved nothing more than to play with boys' minds, especially if they were dumb enough to believe whatever tales we spun.

One of these times we were out roller blading with some boys.  My friend and I had been speaking Russian to each other, our mutual first language, and giggling up a storm.  The boys asked us what our names were in Russia.  They were literally asking for us to make fun of this because her name is *retracted*...a very Russian name, and mine is Catherine...although Americanized, it's still fairly easy to guess that there is something similar in Russian.  We looked at each other, giggled, and in sync said, "Bob".   Then we giggled some more.  Because we were teenage girls and that's what teenage girls do.

The boys pondered at this fib and decided that it sounded a little fishy.  "Both of your names were Bob?" they asked us.  "Yes.  You see, Russia was communist when she and I were born and in a Communist country everything had to be equal.  So, everyone had to be named Bob.  That's why in Russian, both of our names are Bob.  And our parents weren't born during Communism, so they got to keep their original names."  I spoke seriously.  The boys looked at us and decided that this was just too weird to be untrue and so they agreed that we must, after all, be named Bob.  Because, you know, Communists are scary and weird.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What's for dinner tonight?

I'm still enjoying my wine, but I thought that it is only fair to now post about the chicken that made my finger bleed.


My mom went to a store and bought these little itty bitty chickens, 2 per pack, for 99 cents a pound.  Naturally, she grabbed a whole bunch of them.  When we came back from vacation, she gave one to us because, well, she's a mom.  Don't all moms do that?  Between Jon and I, we would never have to buy groceries if we visited our families at least once a week.

Tonight I decided to make the chicken, along with some stuffing and mashed potatoes.  The only thing missing was canned cranberry sauce, like the kind my mother-in-law and grandma-in-law almost poisoned me with.  But that's neither here nor there.

For the chicken, I took the tiny little chicklets, rubbed them down with some oil and chicken rub, then stuffed them with some prepared Stouffer's stuffing (the directions are right on the package).  I put it in the pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes (or until the insides are about 170 degrees and the outside is about 180 degrees).  Yum

Jon already started carving this one.  I couldn't grab my camera fast enough.

While this was cooking, I vacuumed...wait, this wasn't what this is about.  Ah, yes.  I made some mashed potatoes.  I boiled some potatoes and then added some Sour Cream, Cheese,

and some salt, pepper, and paprika.  Because if you know me at all or have ever eaten at my house, you know dang well that there is no such thing as macaroni or potatoes unless it has some paprika.


And of course, some scallions.
These were left over from dinner I made a couple of nights ago and honestly, I think scallions make almost everything taste better.  Kinda like paprika.

I start mashing these potatoes with a hand masher because I kept them kind of tough to make sure they were slightly chunky.  Add about a handful of cheese, about 3 spoon-fulls of sour cream, a pinch of salt, some pepper, and paprika to taste.

I also kept the skins on this time because these were leftover tiny potatoes and I didn't have much time to peel them.  Then I use m handy-dandy mixer to get them a little mushier.


Then mix in the scallion and pile it all on your plate.

Then devour with some delicious red wine.

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