Thursday, January 30, 2014

Budgeting Bloggers: January 2014

After my Christmas haul, I decided I need to continue to cull my closet and only add pieces I really love.  I saw on Pinterest a tip to turn all your hangers backwards; once you wear an item, you replace it on the hanger the right way.  That way, you can see which items you never wear and need to part with.  That's going to be my strategy this year; anything in-season that I don't wear this quarter needs to go, and anything off-season has until the end of June.  (TN gets pretty hot, so this is a good measure.)

I like my January purchases because they stick mostly to my wishlist.  Also, since Dan and I didn't exchange gifts until New Year's, my Christmas gifts from him hit this January rollup.

  1. LOFT Long Knotted Chain Necklace (originally $35, paid $18):  I ordered two necklaces from LOFT at the tail end of January.  After getting so many tops, I realized I needed a couple of new accessories to wear to work with my new outfits!  I wanted some gold necklaces because my current collection is 90% silver toned.
  2. LOFT Long Fine Chain Tassel Necklace (originally $35, paid $18):  My friend Caroline has the tassel necklace from J. Crew AND this one.  I have started wearing more gold jewelry, so this was a natural choice when it went on sale plus a holiday promo code.
  3. Nine West Sookie Wide Calf Riding Boots in black (originally $169, paid $99): I was wearing a pair of black boots that I got on eBay in college.  They had a plastic sole and I slipped and fell in them many times!  I've been looking for leather boots to wear over jeans, and I need a wide calf fit.  These were on promo at Macy's after the holidays, so I snatched them up when I saw how nicely they worked!  I seriously wear them nearly every day.
  4. North Face Osito Jacket in Prussian Blue (gift from Dan):  I've been wanting one of these super-furry North Face jackets for a long time, and now I finally have one!  I want to live in it and be a muppet.
  5. Merona Ankle Ponte Pants in Navy (gift from Dan): I have these in black and wear them pretty much every weekend, so I asked for a new pair for Christmas.  Dan nailed it, and I will be living in these pants too!
  6. Sam Edelman Penny Boot in Whiskey ($170 at Nordstrom):  Ever see something and not be able to stop thinking about it?  The Penny boot combines styles and colors of like four pairs of fake leather boots I've owned all in one beautiful, dream boot that I never want to take off.  I originally ordered the wide calf, but they were TOO wide, so I tried on the regular calf boot for a more snug fit.  I seriously wear these or my black boots every day.  Two of my coworkers have them in black and we all talk about our love for the Penny boot.
  7. Sydney Zip Phone Wallet in Real Red (originally $55, paid $40):  I eyeballed this wristlet over Christmas, and when it went on sale afterwards in the color I liked, I had to have it!  Sold.  Great for taking to work.  Wanted to choose colors that go with both black and brown purses.
  8. Sydney Zip Multifunction in Cobalt Blue (originally $50, paid $40):  I have a tiny Coach wallet like this that is falling apart, and I can't find a similar one for a good deal.  I think I may have converted to Fossil over Coach for practicality!  It's my new everyday now that the Coach wallet has seen its final days.  Like the red, I wanted something I could toss into a black or brown purse when I switch up bags.
  9. J. Crew Factory Belted Trench (originally $198, paid $99):  I've wanted a good quality belted trenchcoat for a while, and this one was at the perfect price point.  It was backordered in December online and delayed until this month.  This coat has a great weight and lining, so I'm very happy with it!  The sleeves are a little long, but the rest of it fits very nicely.  I may look into having it tailored.  I just wish this Polar Vortex wasn't keeping me from wearing it.
Not pictured:
  • Elizabeth & Clarke Tops ($40):  I exchanged two shirts from December and didn't get them until later, so I counted them here.
  • Fabletics January Outfit ($57):  I decided later to count my workout clothes subscription as part of the budget.  I mean, I have to be accountable, right?  Rein it in, Aubrey.

$582  - $322 Posh/Blog Earnings = $260

Quarterly Budget: $500 - $260 January = $240 remaining

I'm excited by the quarterly budget, because I get a little more flexibility.  I knew January would be a BIG spending month because of the after-Christmas sales I love.  I also wanted to hunt for quality leather boots knowing that winter is when it is easier to find them.  Score!  I'm very happy with how much I spent and how much I sold.  (I sold a few designer handbags, spurring the great Poshmark sales number.)

And despite donating a bunch of stuff over the past few months, at the beginning of the year I had THREE huge bags to donate.  Definitely going to start inventorying my donations so I can take advantage of it on my taxes... I'm guilty of the donate & run method before.  This Budgeting Bloggers exercise has taught me how to be more intentional about my purchases (and less impulsive) knowing I'm putting it all out there every month.  I've also noticed a TON more space in my closet from selling and donating things I don't wear.  It's awesome to really be able to SEE my wardrobe!

I recently learned about a new-to-me website via Meghan at Hayes Days:  Rack It Up.  You can "pin" wishlist items to your virtual closet, and the site will e-mail you when the items go on sale! (You choose the $ or % when you want to be notified.)  I have already marked some of my wishlist items so I can find out when they go on promo... instead of sifting through sale e-mails and websites.  I'll let you know if it works out for me.

Wishlist Update:
P.S.  Here are two photos: one of me wearing one of my Christmas gift dresses, a belt from December, and my new knotted chain necklace and black boots.  The other of me wearing a few items you've seen on Budgeting Bloggers and my new brown boots.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Loveless Cafe

There are a few iconic places in every city that you just kind of have to visit, and in the Nashville area Loveless Cafe is one of them.  This place went "viral" before the internet, convincing people to head out to a former motel in the middle of nowhere to indulge in biscuits and jam.

I will admit that I don't like to wait in lines, so I've been avoiding Loveless as a result.  I've heard sometimes the wait is up to two hours, and they don't take reservations for small parties.  But when my friend Lindsey and I were texting at like 7am about breakfast, we figured we could go super early and beat the church rush on a Sunday morning.  We were right; we barely had to wait, and you get to wander around their little stores while you do.  It's like an original Cracker Barrel in that regard.

The biscuits were AWESOME.  I loved them!  I tried all the jams they brought with them too.  For my breakfast, I went basic with scrambled eggs and crispy bacon, plus a small side of their hash brown casserole.  That cheesy goodness was so rich and heavy, I didn't even finish half of it!  I ate very well and enjoyed it a lot.

I'm not sure if I will be back to Loveless, unless a visitor or friend wants to go... it's about 20-25 minutes from where I live, and nothing else is nearby.  I liken it to eating at Lady & Sons in Savannah; it's a haven for tourists after so many appearances on Food Network and the like.  But it was definitely worth checking off my Nashville "bucket list"!

Lindsey and me, cheesing out

Loveless Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Fresh 20: Update @thefresh20

Wanted to post an update, as I am still using The Fresh 20 for meal planning!  I will admit that not every week is as perfect as the first; Dan got sick one week so we didn't cook as much, and I was traveling for work and basically skipped a week.  :(  Nevertheless, having a meal plan makes grocery shopping easier, and we bought fewer items so even the bit that went to waste wasn't much.  We're still saving money, and I love collecting these weeks of recipes so I can do them out of order if I want, especially when I'm traveling and can't cook for a week.

Now that we've established more of a routine, I choose an average of 3 meals per week and just go from there.

As I've said before, the recipes don't always knock your socks off, but it's good, unprocessed food, and it's a MENU.  I get home from work and know exactly what needs to be done.  I can even prep in the morning, especially if I was too burned out the night before to do it.  Win!

Here are a few dishes I remembered to take photos of...  Note: I usually photograph Dan's portion because I plate his up prettier than my own, and he gets a larger portion than me.

Tangy Pork Tenderloin (w/Squash & Fennel Potatoes)
I marinated the tenderloin the night before, so it had time to get nice and seasoned.  It was also very juicy once cooked!  The squash wasn't my thing, but the fennel potatoes were pretty good.  I should have let them spend some time under the broiler to crisp up.

Hot Chicken w/Feta Kale Couscous
This recipe was supposed to be Hot Chicken Legs with Blue Cheese Kale Potatoes, but Dan prefers white meat and I dislike blue cheese, so we altered it a little using chicken breast and feta!  We didn't have potatoes, so I used couscous instead.  Dan LOVED the variation with couscous and gobbled it up.  He said he'd like to have this couscous again.  (We had leftovers, and he ate them all.)

Moroccan Turkey Stuffed Acorn Squash
This one was not our favorite, though the squash "boat" was really cute.  We just can't wrap our head around "sweet" dinners.  The turkey was tasty, and I barely noticed the quinoa (which is a feat for me, a hater of quinoa), but the sweetness of the squash and the cinnamon in the spices just didn't match up with our tastes.  Meh.  But I imagine someone else would have loved this meal!

Penne with Pancetta, Mushrooms, & Sage
Dan went back for seconds on this one!  I wish the photo was better.  It was super fun to make, because I got to make a wine reduction and do much of it in one pan, so I felt fancy cooking it.  Dan loves mushrooms.  I actually think I'd made this with an alfredo or red sauce instead of the reduction and enjoy it even more.

I've noticed that with the Fresh 20's "For One" menu sometimes you end up with some extras of the ingredients.  One week it was a half head of broccoli, another week it was half a grapefruit.  But if you can find a way to repurpose it (like eating the remaining grapefruit as a breakfast or snack), it won't go to waste!

Disclosure: This blog post is completely independent of any connection to The Fresh 20.  I bought my own three-month subscription in an effort to cook fewer processed foods.  I also do not share the recipes as they are a part of the Fresh 20 subscription.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Chamberlain's Leather Milk on my Madewell Tote

Last May, I purchased a beautiful Madewell leather tote during a trip to California.  I was then devastated when I wore it with a new pair of dark denim jeans (without setting the color) and had some denim stains on the bag!  Nooooo...

So I took the bag to a professional leather cleaner and paid a decent penny to have the stains removed.  When I got the bag back, the stains were gone, but the bag no longer had its buttery soft leather texture.  The bag was stiff, and I was super sad again.

I called Madewell, hoping that they could tell me how to care for the bag.  They kept me on hold for a while, then told me to go to a professional leather cleaner.  Sigh.  That's how I ended up calling in the first place!  After a bunch of Google searches, I reached out to the folks at Chamberlain's Leather Milk and sent them a link to the bag I'd purchased.  Within a couple of days, a rep from Chamberlain's told me to try their Leather Care Liniment.

I applied the liniment as directed, but tested a small spot on the bottom of the bag first.  I knew that adding anything to the bag might affect the colors, but I also didn't want to wait years for the bag to regain its softness from natural oils/wear.  I took the plunge and treated the whole bag.

Testing, testing...

This last photo is of the bottom *before it dried* so you can see how it brings out the leather grain a little bit more.  I am very pleased with how the liniment has revived the bag, giving it a softer feel again.  The color does not appear to be changed to me; in fact, it still looks just like the first photo in this post, only more soft and supple.  So I would say it was a win!  I definitely think I will make a habit of treating this bag so it doesn't get stiff again.

BEFORE it dried!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I have been reading up on different subscription services, things like Stitchfix.  I did two rounds with Elizabeth & Clarke, but after a closet overhaul I realized that I don't have much need for those types of tops.

When I saw an ad for Fabletics(<-my referral link, full disclosure), a monthly workout outfit subscription service, I was intrigued.  It is a premium fitness apparel brand developed by Kate Hudson.  I am hoping to get back into running, as I have a goal of running the Disney Marathon in January 2015.  I purged a ton of workout clothes that no longer fit, and I thought Fabletics would be the perfect way to get excited about hitting the gym again.

I got a great deal on my first outfit (50% off) plus I ordered a pair of camo print capri leggings.  $56 for all the pieces.  I received my first outfit not long after.  I was really impressed by the quality of the items!  The camo print capris are my absolute favorite, and I can't wait to wear them.  They are thick but stretchy, and I didn't have to pay Lululemon pricing.

I'm impressed by Fabletics so far.  You get Target-esque prices for more premium offering activewear, which I definitely appreciate.  The pink top felt a bit too big, and the other leggings weren't the length I was expecting, so I contacted Fabletics to return them.  I exchange those pieces for a new outfit, at no cost to me; the leggings even have a snake print accent on the side:

I am legitimately excited about this subscription, because it has already gotten me motivated to train.  I don't think I need to subscribe forever (or I'll need a new closet just for activewear) but this should get me on the right track and feeling great.  You can skip a month or three if you want, you just have to log into your account to do it!  (Note: I'm not counting workout clothes in my Budgeting Bloggers budget yet, because I can't wear them to work and it's for the marathon training.  I might change that in a few months, but we'll see.)

Oh, and here are the new running shoes I just got!  I went to my local Fleet Feet for a custom fitting/consultation and these are where I ended up.  I also got some inserts for my arches that I'm trying out, based on my consultation.

New shoes, and Fabletics pants!

Disclaimer:  I subscribed to Fabletics on my own, and did not receive anything in exchange for this review.  If you're interested in signing up for Fabletics, I would LOVE if you'd use my referral link!  For every two friends you get to join, you can earn an outfit.

Monday, January 20, 2014


As part of my business trip to D.C., we had an Italian feast our first night in town.  And when I mean feast, I mean that I ate until the consumption of a single chocolate chip would put me over the edge.  I was falling asleep at 9pm from this meal.  And I only had one glass of wine!  But let's rewind and talk about the restaurant.

We absolutely loved our meal at Filomena, located in Georgetown.  As we walked downstairs, we saw some very nice ladies making ravioli by hand.  All of the pasta at Filomena is housemade and fresh.  There were EPIC dessert displays in the waiting area too.

It also happened to be Restaurant Week during our visit, so I was able to get a three-course (HUGE) meal for $35.14.  Typically, the entrees seemed to priced around $25-30 each.  We drank the house toscana wine, a delicious red blend.

For my appetizer, I chose the Arancini, Arborio rice rolled and stuffed with mozzarella and bolognese meat, dusted with breadcrumbs and quick fried. It was served with their famous tomato sauce, a sauce so good that Clint Eastwood sent his crew to dinner at Filomena to culminate filming of Flags of Our Fathers.

For my main dish, I chose the Ravioli alla Matrimonia, chef-made meatballs alongside Mamma's cheese ravioli, also served in their famous tomato sauce.  Delish!!!  I also stole bites from my coworkers' Rigatoni con Pollo e Vodka, as well as Tortelloni di Michele, a brisket ravioli.  BOTH WERE AMAZING.  This was an epic feast.

We were beyond stuffed when my white chocolate strawberry mousse cake came out, but everyone assisted and had a bite.  We ended the night with complimentary shots of sambuca and amaretto, in full Italian style.

I loved my meal at Filomena, and I would come back in a heartbeat.  I actually feel like each entree could feed two people!  The fresh pasta and amazing sauces would keep me fat and happy for sure.

Filomena on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Washington D.C.

I was in Washington, D.C. for a work trip recently, and we squeezed in a few hours to take a whirlwind on/off private bus tour to visit some monuments.  Pictures speak a thousand words (even crappy iPhone ones), so here are a few snapshots.  I was happy to finally see MLK and FDR in person, as well as go inside Jefferson Memorial for the first time.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Life Lately

Dude, what's up with all the restaurant posts lately?  Truthfully, it's because I always remember to take food porn photos when I'm at a new-to-me restaurant, but not so much during everyday life.  Boo.

But things have been busy and great lately!
  • One of my best friends moved to Franklin, so we've spent time reconnecting in person and introducing her to her new home/town.  Woohoo!
  • I went to a yoga class, which was terribly painful and uncomfortable... and it made me feel like farting.  But afterwards it felt amazing.
  • One of my West Point buddies and his wife (and puppy) spent a night with us on their way home from the holidays.  We gave them a quick brewery tour and enjoyed their company.  Bear was so curious (and confused) about the giant lab puppy!
  • I had a super fun meetup with my Nashville blogger buddies!  We celebrated the birthdays of Lauren and Jenna with some vegetarian Indian food at Woodlands.  I carpooled with Kimmie, and it was awesome to catch up with Lauren, Trisha, and Kaelah too, plus a couple of new friends!
  • I've been working on homework and tests for my MBA.  I take two classes at a time, on top of my full-time job, leaving much less "me" time than I've been used to.  My sewing machine feels abandoned, and I don't even post to Facebook every day. (Gasp!)  I've been using the myHomework Student Planner app this term, and I think the extra bit of organization is helping me keep up.  My grades thus far are already better.
  • Work is challenging but good, and I've started traveling again.  My calendar for spring is booking up fast!  Heck, between work and personal travel, I literally have my vacation days mapped out for the entire year.  Sigh.  And yay!  And sigh.
  • I haven't even had time to see the new Hobbit movie.  I mean, if you know me, that's a complete nerd tragedy.  I saw every Lord of the Rings movie on the first night/weekend they came out.  Religiously.
So yeah, that's what I've been up to in real life lately.  Because everybody's busy, and we have to make priorities.  And creative, funny, fascinating blog posts (outside of restaurant reviews) haven't been flowing from my fingertips lately.  Hopefully I'll remember to take some photos and jot things down so you don't give up on me.  All four of you out there who read this.  I need you.  I love you.

Here's an adorable sloth to appease you!!!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Kate's Kitchen

When my coworkers and I were figuring out a place to eat lunch one weekday, we decided to check out a fairly new place near our office: Kate's Kitchen.  We already love MacK & Kate's Cafe, so another restaurant from the same owners sounded like a great thing to try.

Located next to PortaVia in Cool Springs, this little gem has a country-meets-French vibe.  You order at the counter (they serve breakfast and lunch most days, dinner some nights) and then they bring your food out to you.

For lunch, I ordered my go-to favorite: a Croque Madame.  This was awesome, much more authentic than the giant one served at J. Alexander's.  I would come back for this sandwich whenever I want a taste of Paris!  My coworkers tried the quiche and loved it, as well as the famous macaroni and cheese.  I sampled a bit of a warm muffin too, which was sinfully good.  Everyone loved the chili too.

Croque Madame
Later in the week, Dan and I stopped in for a weekend breakfast before running errands.  I had a delicious breakfast croissant.  The croissant itself was perfect, just like a French bakery makes.  The downside?  There was no barista on a Saturday AM, so Dan could not order the specialty coffee listed on the menu.  Also, the service, much like in France, is a bit slow.  Even taking orders at the counter, with a pretty empty restaurant, took a bit of time.

I really wish they served breakfast crepes/galettes, given their French flair, but I did enjoy my meal.

Based on the prices, I'm not sure it will be a breakfast/dinner spot for me very often.  I do still think they're working on the kinks being pretty new on the scene.  But I think it will be a good spot near the office when I want to grab a lunch out, because you can't beat the adorable decor and solid sandwich skills.  It's like a little bit of Paris in Cool Springs.

Breakfast Croissant

Kate's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 10, 2014

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

I'm lactose intolerant, and I don't love ice cream.  But Dan does, and everyone raved about Jeni's, so I insisted we brave the long line at the new 12 South location of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.

You guys, I would eat this ice cream EVERY DAY.  I would take a bottle of Lactaid and go to town on it!  I had a scoop of the Brown Butter Almond Brittle and a scoop of Ndali Estate Vanilla Bean.  I told Dan I want the Almond Brittle in a pint instead of a birthday cake.  It was decadent and sooo good!

Dan had the Brambleberry Crisp and Whiskey & Pecans.  They weren't my favorites, but we sampled such a variety of sweet and savory that we could mix and match endlessly.  There's literally something for everyone.  And WE WILL BE BACK.  Yum.  Yummy.  YUM.

Check out the Jeni's website to learn more about how this little Midwest shop is being amazing all the time.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Elizabeth & Clarke: Winter 2013 Collection

For my 2nd Elizabeth & Clarke seasonal box, I actually chose all short-sleeved tops.  As I explained in the fall, these are all black, white, and sometimes grey basics send to you for $60 (three shirts) on a quarterly basis.  I have been wearing one of my three tops from my previous box pretty consistently (and currently battling a stain on the beloved comfy top), but not the other two.  So I decided I would only keep from this box the pieces I absolutely loved.

My Selections: The Davis, The Paige, and The Warren

Lucky for me, the ponte Davis top was a peplum dream.  I put it on and loved it, but then realized it was super "different" from other tops I have.  I ran to find Dan and get his opinion.  He loved it too, so I knew it was a keeper for when I'm feeling fashion-forward and cool.

The Keeper!!!

The other two shirts just weren't the right fit for me or my style, so I decided to return them and exchange them for shirts from a previous collection that I missed.  I have also decided to try one more box to see how I do with the Spring Collection.  Fingers crossed it's worth the investment as part of my clothing budget!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Fresh 20 @thefresh20

A coworker recommended The Fresh 20 to me, knowing I want to cook more meals at home.  I liked the idea of having a pre-set grocery list of 20 unprocessed ingredients, with a handful of meals planned for the week.  Dan and I want to save money and eat less "fast casual" food.

I chose the Fresh 20's "For One" menu, because we don't need to cook for a family of four.  My hope was that since this smaller menu was billed as two servings (one for dinner, one to pack as a lunch) it would suffice for myself and Dan.  The recipes were also fresh and healthy enough to fit within my Weight Watchers requirements!

The grocery list took me longer than my usual shopping trip; part of this was the finding fresh ingredients I was unfamiliar with as I don't buy a lot of produce.  I got in and out of the grocery store in 45 minutes (usually it takes me about 30), though I know I'll get better.  The Fresh 20 also uses seasonal ingredients, so I can look for items at the farmer's market too.  The cost estimates from the shopping list were also fairly accurate; I spent under $35 total for all the ingredients.  It would have been even less if I had the option to buy smaller bunches of the vegetables at my store, i.e. one carrot instead of a bundle!

I also found I was able to finish most of the week's prep the very first night, so it was a lot more assembly than cooking when each meal rolled around.  We ate them a little out of order, and not five days in a row, but it WORKED!

Meal #1: Foil Wrapped Chicken & Vegetables (w/Brown Rice)
This one was tasty, but I should have added some more chicken to satisfy Dan's appetite!  I was happy with how easy it was, and my photo doesn't do it justice.  When I plated it up, Dan immediately walked to the dining room table, a place we don't usually eat... so I'd say this cooking at home thing is a winner!

Photo would have been better minus the foil, sorry!

Meal #2: Mexican Chicken (w/Warm Bean Salsa)
This recipe called for shrimp, but we decided to substitute chicken breast instead.  This was super easy, and Dan liked the seasoning on everything.  Black beans are one of his favorites. Instead of serving plain brown rice, I added some cilantro and lime juice to mimic the rice at Chipotle.  Dan loved this enough that he said he'd eat it again; it was his favorite of the week, and probably mine too.

I appreciated that the recipe used a half can of the beans and tomatoes, and that the remainder of the cans will be used for a later recipe; I hate wasting food and overcooking for two people!

This is Dan's portion... I added a bit more chicken and rice for him!

Meal #4: Chicken Broccoli (w/Soft Noodles)
This one was super easy, and I happened to have organic wheat udon noodles in the pantry.  Score!  The chicken was the same from Meal #1, but spent more time in the same marinade.  Dan really liked the flavor, and he even ate the leftovers I left in the pan!  This one definitely had an Asian flare.  (Note: we did not eat chicken three nights in a row, there was a gap!)

Mmm...  udon noodles.

Meal #3: Sausage Radish Bake (w/Sweet Potatoes)
I really liked the turkey sausage and apples, not sure about the radishes and the meal itself.  I think I might have liked the mixture on a hoagie bun or something.  It was alright.  It was Dan's least favorite of the week, though I really liked the turkey and flavor.

Meal #5: Mushroom Chili
This vegetarian chili just wasn't for me.  For Dan, however, who loves mushrooms and beans and whatnot, this was the perfect recipe.  My Mom gave me a small Crock Pot (our main one is huge) and this fit perfectly.  The recipe didn't call for the slow cooker, but on a lazy Sunday it was the perfect alternative way to make it.  So not my favorite, but Dan thought it was good.

All in all, I am excited about my first week with The Fresh 20!  I think the "For One" menu, with a little added protein, is perfect for a busy, working couple.  I don't have enough leftovers for lunches since Dan is eating the 2nd serving, so I may occasionally cook a little extra so I have a small portion for a packed lunch.  I think the 4-serving family meals would yield too much for us, defeating the purpose of this fantastic freshness and variety each week!

Disclosure: This blog post is completely independent of any connection to The Fresh 20.  I bought my own three-month subscription in an effort to cook fewer processed foods.
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