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FB Foodie Friday – Ratatouille – Remy Style

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The following is a guest post from FB Hubby and the first recipe for $15 or less.

“Ratatouille doesn’t sound delicious. It sounds like “rat” and “patootie.” Rat-patootie, which does not sound delicious.” – Linguini

$15 Dollar Dinner Challenge

We like to do Friday night movie night at home. This can be tricky with a 7-year-old as it limits our choices. We always try to find something new, make some popcorn, and enjoy ourselves. So what this all leading to? Well in addition to the FB $15 dinner challenges, my family often likes to challenge me to make new dishes. A couple of years ago, our then 5-year-old son asked me to make ratatouille for dinner after he had seen the movie. I looked up some recipe and made it. It did not taste like ratatouille; it tasted like rat-patootie. It was certainly not delicious. It was awful. I mean really terrible. We could not understand how Ego thought this was such a great meal. So here we are, a couple of years later, watching the movie, and what does my son ask? “Daddy, can you make ratatouille for dinner tomorrow night?” Shannon immediately gives me that “Remember last time” look. However, I reluctantly agree.

I was determined to do a better job this time, so I actually decided to do a little research. I looked on the internet for any mention of the version of ratatouille that Remy used in the movie. And it turns out the recipe comes from the great chef Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. He was actually a consultant on the film and apparently allowed the film’s producer, Brad Lewis, to intern in the French Laundry kitchen. In case you have not heard of the French Laundry, it is one of the best restaurants in the world. Certainly not a place to try on a budget and apparently you actually need to make reservations something like 6 months in advance.

Discovery of the Real Remy Ratatouille

Having discovered the origin of the Ratatouille recipe, I looked it up (it is called Confit Byaldi, in case you want to see it yourself).  The first ingredient was Piperade, which I had to then look up. Something you should know about me is that I get frustrated when I am required to find something that is not easily available. Piperade is a tomato recipe in of itself that requires a bunch of other work and at least 30 minutes to just make that part. So I looked at a few other recipes and decided to do a couple of substitutions.

Also, to get the really thin slices, Remy used a mandolin. I actually do have one, but found it to be not all that necessary.  Finally, the great thing about animation is that anything can be done. The fact that Remy’s slices of ingredients all sliced perfectly in size and shape will not be accomplished in yours or my kitchen. I don’t think the French Laundry can even pull that off.

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Persistance Pays Off

That next night, I cooked up the ratatouille. Shannon thought it might be a good idea to cook up some pasta on the side. She said this loud enough for my son’s sake, but we both knew the plan. If ratatouille was going to once again be rat-patootie, we wanted a back-up plan. It came out of the oven and smelled good. I plated it up, including trying to spoon a little of the tomato sauce around it, just like Remy. We decided to put on the movie Ratatouille again, and all took a bite. It was awesome, and not just because we had such low expectations going in. Our son ate the whole thing and loved it. Much like Ego, we will be returning to this recipe with great anticipation.

Ratatouille Remy Style – Total Cost = $13!

 Ingredients

1-1/2 cups Pomi strained tomatoes

3 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as you can

½ yellow onion, diced

1 eggplant, sliced into thin circles

1 large yellow squash, sliced into thin circles

1 large zucchini, sliced into thin circles

1 large red pepper, sliced as best you can into strips (remove all seeds)

2-3 Tbls Olive oil

Fresh thyme

Kosher Salt

Pepper

Preheat the oven to 375. Get a round or oval baking dish and some parchment paper (not necessary if you don’t have it). Cut the parchment paper in the shape of the dish so it will be the same size. Do this before adding anything to the dish, trust me, it is a pain to do afterwards.

  1. In the round or oval baking dish, pour the strained tomatoes, add garlic, onion, and one tablespoon of olive oil, along with some salt and pepper. Mix and spread it around so it is even across the bottom of the baking dish.
  2. Now for the fun and tricky part, start arranging the sliced eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, and red pepper around the dish. I made them in groups in the order I just mentioned, first the eggplant, then the yellow squash, then the zucchini, and then the red pepper. Make them spiral around the dish until you get to the middle. I made sure they were not flat, but partially standing, leaning at an angle. Once I had made a first spiral to the middle, I found I had more slices still left, so I just tucked and moved things around until I had used them all up.
  3. Once the spiral was complete, drizzle the rest of the olive oil over the top of the spiral. Sprinkle on more salt and pepper. Take about 4 sprigs of thyme, peel off the leaves, and spread the leaves all over the spiral. Use more if you need it. Place the parchment paper over the top of the spiral and put in the oven. Bake for 50 minutes and serve. (Several recipes mention serving it with rice, but we serve it with pasta).

Bon Appetite!!!

FB Foodie Fridays

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Food Can Make You Financially Fat

As some of you know, blogging is not my primary job (although sometimes it feels as though it consumes as much space as my “regular” job). My primary job is working as a financial planner for Millennials and Gen X’ers, helping them achieve their short and long term financial goals. As such, I see many common hurdles preventing people from achieving financial success, and a big hurdle for most people is the cost of food. According to the USDA, the average cost of food for a family of four in November of 2013, was $800 a month!! This does not even account for the cost of eating out.

So, I have decided to create a weekly post called FB (aka Financially Blonde) Foodie Fridays where I will share yummy and healthy meals for 4 people that in total will cost $15 or less. And this $15 is a “true” number. I hate when people say meals cost $5, but they only attribute the cost of a teaspoon of cumin to your total. However, if you don’t have cumin to begin with, then this will add $5 to your shopping bill.

Well-Stocked Kitchens Save Money 

The first step in achieving these meals, though, is a well-stocked kitchen. There are just some things that everyone should have on hand at all times. So the following is a guest post from my hubby who is the head chef in our house. He has given tips on how to stock a kitchen inexpensively so that you can save money over time by cooking more at home.

Guest Blog from FB Hubby

Over the years, I often find recipes, make a few changes, and make them my own. Shannon (my Financially Blonde wife) decided to give me an FB Challenge, create some meals that cost up to $10 to make. So I set off for the grocery store. Now I know there are all these cooking shows that claim you can do these great meals at low cost. I cry foul on those meals unless it is a salad or pasta with butter as the sauce. You can’t get a pound of chicken, meat (even ground beef), pork, etc. without hitting the $7 mark. Add one onion and a pepper and you are pretty much at $10. I am sure you might be able to do something with that, but don’t forget you may want it to have taste, so that means spices, maybe some butter or olive oil. Of course, if you live in New York like us, things tend to be even more expensive. So I got her to raise my limit to $15. I think I can do that and will post some of these results in later blogs.

However, before you can make a meal, you need to stock your kitchen with some basics. Now nothing drives me crazier than finding what looks like a great recipe only to read the ingredients and see that I need 1 cup of Tibetan Yak’s milk, 5 oz of Bermudan arrowroot, and a pinch of Afghan asafetida (I had to Google it) to make it work. Not only are things like this impossible to find, but when you do, they are expensive and you never use them again until you rediscover the same recipe (only to find the curdled Yak’s milk way in the back of the fridge). So I promise not to post any recipes with crazy ingredients. However, there are some basics that you should keep on hand. This list, called the “Essentials“, will run about $50, but are things that will last for many uses and can be used in a variety of recipes. (For many of the spices, if you have a Sam’s Club or CostCo membership, get them there and it greatly reduces the cost over the long haul).

The Essentials: You should always have these on hand at any given time

Kosher Salt

Course ground black pepper

Paprika

Garlic Powder

Cumin

Red pepper flakes

Chili Powder

Flour

Sugar

Italian Bread Crumbs (go for the largest size)

Noodles

Dry pasta (wait for these to go on sale and buy them then)

Chicken broth

Cream of chicken soup

Cream of mushroom soup

Mayo

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That should get you going. Look out for future recipes as we embark on the FB $15 dinner challenges. Eat well and stay financially fit!

Check out the first recipe here! 

2013 – A Retrospective

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I always love this time of year because everywhere you look, there is a retrospective on popular events, people, music, movies, television shows, news headlines, etc. of the year past. I love to read and watch every single one to remind myself of what treasures the year gave us. With 24 hour news channels, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, texting, emailing, etc. it is easy to get inundated with information and forget the details along the way. Retrospectives help us remember the highlights. I am excited that this year, I can blog my first retrospective and keep it as a small part of my time capsule of life.

Rollercoaster

2013 was a tumultuous, exciting, scary, amazing year in my life. For those who do not know me, I am 35 years old. And I have had a number of crazy years in my life, but to date, this one takes the cake. I began my year working for Merrill Lynch as a Financial Advisor. I loved my job, but felt as though I was missing something. It was wonderful working with my clients and helping them achieve financial goals; however, I often wished that I was not limited to working only with people who had $250,000 or more in assets. In addition, I also wanted to start a newsletter that I was going to call “Financially Blonde.” Unfortunately, life at a large financial institution is limiting, and I could not achieve either of these goals.

A Child Is Born

Somewhere around February, I began to formulate my thoughts for the perfect financial services company. This company was one that didn’t focus on assets, but focused on the financial health and well being of its clients no matter what their financial shape or size. In particular, this company would target young people as they were starting their financial journeys because making smart financial choices as soon as possible, leads to easier choices down the road. I consulted with friends, family, clients and industry specialists about this company, and I got various responses. And the funny thing was that the responses completely aligned with the age group of the person questioned. I found that Baby Boomers did not understand the concept at all, and they all wondered how I would make money. Gen Y or Millennials said there was absolutely a need, and my Gen X consultants were somewhere down the middle. Given the fact that there was the most support from my target market, I made plans to leave Merrill and start Next-Gen Financial.

In August, I officially started Next-Gen, and a month later began my blog Financially Blonde as the fun way for me to communicate with my friends and clients about how to have fun, live fabulously and be financially fit. In addition to the blog, I also finished my first book which is a great tool in taking the first steps to achieve financial health. I am now three months into both endeavors, and I have never been happier professionally. I have the ability to help people truly achieve their hopes and dreams in life through strong financial health, and there is nothing more rewarding. I love being in the trenches with my clients, holding their hands and cheering them on as they work hard to live a more financially rewarding life.

Not All Fun and Games

As with every year, there are ups and downs. Professionally, there were a number of ups. Personally, I had a number of downs. Isn’t that always the case? You can’t have it all. I lost three family members between January and April of this year. Even though, I know better than anyone that there are no guarantees in life, it is still always a struggle to say goodbye to those we love. I have been married for 10 years, and earlier this year, my husband and I really had to fight for our marriage. We have an immense amount of love for each other, but sometimes life wears you down and you have to regroup and determine what is important. I am happy to say that we celebrated 10 years in October and without a single reservation. I have a 7-year-old son who has ADHD and sometimes transition is difficult for him. And second grade was one of those difficult transition times. But with the help of an amazing child psychologist, I am happy to report that he too is doing great heading into 2014. Here is a picture of us from my son’s first football game.

family steelers game

My Blog

I only began this blog three months ago; however, there are a few blogs that I am particularly proud of and would like to highlight.

1)   Don’t Buy It – Try It – I let my readers in on my secret of “free” facials and makeovers at Sephora.

2)   Make It Hard – I highlighted the importance of making shopping a fun challenge to not only save money, but to look fabulous as well.

3)   The Me Market / Vegas Baby– As a financial planner, I am always asked about investing, and these two blogs capture the essence of my message to clients.

Other Blogs

As I am new to the blogging community, I have been actively blog stalking and finding blogs I love. Here are a few that either have retrospectives or previews into their 2014 blogs. I can’t wait to continue to follow them.

1)   The Heavy Purse

2)   Frugal Rules

3)   Young Adult Money

4)   Frugal Beautiful

5)   Commonsense Millennial

I hope you enjoy a wonderful send off to 2013 tonight, and a fun, fabulous and financially fit 2014!

 

 

Music Mondays – Big Girls Don’t Cry

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Holiday Fatness

We are just about a week past the holiday season, how is your financial picture? For most of my clients, despite the fact that we talked and planned for a better way to financially manage through the holidays, I know that they are not as financially healthy as they should be from their holiday spending. Just like a Weight Watchers leader is stressed about his or her client’s overeating during the holidays, a financial planner is stressed about his or her client’s overspending during the holidays. The fact is, the spending is over. Even if you were “bad,” the damage is done and now is the time to deal with it. I play this song for client’s who get upset about poor financial choices they have made in the past. The reality is that unless you can return and get refunded for those poor choices, you can’t cry over it. You can only “put your big girl panties on” and deal with the after effects.

Big Girl Panties

If you got carried away this holiday season, stop thinking about what you did wrong and figure out how you are going to make it right. Here are 5 steps to take to manage through this:

1)   Assess the damage – Is it on your credit card? Did you hit your savings?

2)   Make a plan for fixing it – Create a realistic budget for 2014. In your 2014 budget, plan for your 2014 holiday spending. Figure out what you are going to cut out from now until your “fix” your holiday spending. Just as you overeat during the holiday and have to eat better in January and February, you need to do the same financially.

3)   Give yourself specific dates and goals – Just as we are more successful at work with deadlines and specific goals, we need to create the same for our financial goals. Determine when you would like to “fix” your financial mess and put those dates in your calendar.

4)   Review your progress – This exercise is only valuable if you constantly review it and check in on your progress. Put weekly calendar reminders in your phone or computer to make you aware of your check-in time.

5)   Celebrate your success – Once you “fix” your holiday issues, celebrate. Give yourself a small reward like a mani/pedi or bottle or wine to celebrate your financial responsibility.

Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions

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I am actually notorious for not setting New Year’s Resolutions because I never seem to keep up with them, and I ultimately fail. As someone who hates failure, I just refused to set myself up for it, so I stopped creating them. The truth is that frequently we create resolutions that are too broad or too difficult to begin with, and then we make the mistake of forgetting about them. This year, I am making sure that mine are specific, attainable, and most importantly, in writing for my review throughout the year. I will keep you posted on my progress!  Good luck on yours!

10) Blog at least three times a week

9) Lose 10 pounds by the summer and keep it off

8) Go to the dentist twice this year

7) Finish my second book

6) Make four new recipes every month

5) Get rid of cable

4) Work out at least three times a week

3) Schedule at least one Ladies Night a month

2) “Spring clean” in my house at least four times this year

1) Make sure that every day those I love know that I love them

Music Mondays – My Grown Up Christmas List

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Mindful Holidays

This holiday season, I have taken my Music Monday posts to help frame a conversation around the holidays, and how we can become more mindful about what is important to us during the holiday season. I began the season with a reminder to not get caught up in the holiday marketing and overspend what you don’t have. Then I wanted the remind everyone to remember that it is the people that we love that are truly what the holidays are all about. Next I cautioned about asking for too much from loved ones during the holidays. Financial strain and stress during this time of year are avoidable and it starts with the creation of wish lists. And last week, I discussed focusing on people in need to truly enjoy the best Christmas ever. This week, I will share with you my Christmas list and my Christmas confession.

Christmas Confession

I grew up in a home with five children. In fact, we just recently watched home videos of Christmas’ past, and even though Christmas was always “big” because there were seven family members, it was never “big” for any one person. My parents struggled enough to make ends meet, and the holidays were always a challenge. Of course, I did not realize this when I was little; however, I do now. As an adult, I overcompensated for my limited Christmas gifts with over the top experiences for those I love. The last few years, though, I have become more mindful of the holiday experience, and I have scaled back my gifting. Not because I have become a Grinch, but because I think it is a responsible exercise for everyone. Through this evolution, though, the fact is that no matter how big or small the holiday, I always enjoy it. There is truly magic around this time of year, and I thrive on the holiday spirit. So my confession is that I lost my way in the “stuff” of Christmas for a number of years; however, I am happy to report, that I have found my way back. If you have lost your way, I hope you make it a challenge to find your way back. I promise you won’t miss anything!

My Grown Up Christmas List

On that note, here is my Christmas List for 2013:

1)   Happiness and health for those I love

2)   Safe travels for those I love

3)   Quality time with my husband and son

4)   New Perfume (I am not completely reformed!)

5)   A rice cooker (I broke my last one)

6)   A few hours of uninterrupted time to read a book

7)   A Christmas morning wake up after 8am

What’s on your Christmas List this year? I hope that you enjoy this week and challenge yourself to remain mindful this holiday season. You will find that no matter what is under the tree, your enjoyment level will remain high!

Top Ten Year End Planning Musts

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With only 11 days left in 2013, I am taking this Friday to remind you of items you should check off your list before we hit 2014. I know there is a lot going on for most people between now and the end of the year, but take the time and review this list to make sure you have done everything you need to do in 2013.

10) Review your credit score – You should do this regularly, but definitely use this time of year to check in and make sure everything looks okay. I love Credit Karma because it is free and gives you a report card telling you what you can do to improve your credit score.

9) Confirm your healthcare coverage for next year – Did you lose it because of Obamacare? Did you confirm it with your company? Do you need to go to healthcare.gov? Make sure you and your family are set for 2014.

8) Business Planning – Do you own a business and need new equipment or new to make other business related expenses in 2013? If you plan to write them off for this year, then make sure they are purchased before year end.

7) IRA Contributions – You technically have until you file your taxes to take care of this, but if you were planning on making a contribution to your IRA for 2013, why not take care of it now?

6) Gifts to Family or Non-Profits – If you were planning to give cash or stock gifts this year, you need to make sure those are done before the calendar year end.

5) Doctor appointments – Have you gotten your money’s worth on your doctor visits this year? If you have access to these through insurance and you have not scheduled them, get them in before year end. Typically people forget eye doctors, dentists and your general physician for your annual physical. Preventative care is essential for long term health and wellness.

4) Donations – Make sure that you give your clothes and goods to your charities before the end of the year, especially if you plan to include them on your tax return.

3) Flex Spending – If you still have money in your flex spending account, make sure you make purchases before year end so you can use it and not lose it.

2) Investment Portfolio Review – If you have non-retirement investments, you should review your portfolio for gains and losses and determine if you want to take them before the end of the year.

1) Budget for 2014 – The end of the year is a perfect time to reflect on the previous year and lay out the plan for the next year. I know most people think that budgets are a nuisance, but it is the best road map you can give yourself to assure that you achieve all of your financial goals in life. I have suggested sites to help with this, but you can also just use a simple spreadsheet to plan it out.

Who’s Your Goose?

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You haven’t heard of Top Gun?

At 35, I do not consider myself “old,” yet recently I recounted my love for the 1986 movie classic, Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise (before he became a couch jumping, Scientology supporting crazy man) to a 26-year-old friend of mine. To my great dismay, I discovered that she had not seen the movie, and barely knew the reference I was making. If you are like my friend and you have in fact not watched the cheesy brilliance of Top Gun, please stop reading this right now and proceed directly to your most convenient streaming source (Netflix, I-Tunes, Cable, Satellite) and rent this movie. The volleyball scene in the middle is worth the $4 alone. If you have seen this movie, then you know are aware of the nickname, Goose. He is probably one of the greatest movie buddies of all time. In the movie, Goose, was known as a “REO” or navigator on a fighter jet. It is a REO’s job to be another set of eyes on the plane to make sure that the pilot is fully aware of all of the risks surrounding him while flying. As you can imagine, this is an important relationship as the pilot is truly entrusting his life in the REO, and vice versa.

A Financial Buddy Can Save Your Life

Even though it did not end well for Goose, I bring up the importance of a buddy like this because I believe it is important to have a buddy when you are trying to become financially fit. Two years ago, I was 50 pounds overweight, and I joined Weight Watchers. In 8 months, I achieved my weight loss goals, and I fully attribute it to the fact that my husband, Bill, was my weight loss buddy. He kept me on track and had my back through the entire process. Even when he achieved his goal, he continued to partner with me until I achieved mine. I believe the same relationship is absolutely necessary for achieving financial fitness. If you are in a relationship and one of you is a saver and one is a spender, it is difficult to get ahead and for you to achieve all of your goals as a team. If you are trying to save, but you have friends who are constantly trying to get you to go out and spend money, then it will be difficult for you to achieve your savings goals.

Make an Effort to Find Your Buddy

So, I challenge all of you to find your Goose where financial fitness is concerned. Partner with someone and share your goals with each other. Then work together as a team to make sure you both achieve your goals. Your Goose does not have to be a spouse or significant other, but it is always nice to have each other’s backs like that. Whoever your Goose is, choose someone you would trust with your life because your financial health is truly as important as your physical health and that person should feel the same way. If you agree to be someone’s Goose, you should have their back and help them make smart financial choices. If your Maverick has a tough time sticking to them, look for ways to help him or her with those challenges. Financial health, as in many areas of life, is so much more fun and achievable with the help and support of people we love.  Do you already have a Goose? If so, let me know. Let me know what you do to support each other. If not, find one and have each other’s backs so you can achieve the most out of life possible.