May 9, 2021

Random Roundup Mother's Day Edition: Books, Recipes & Meal Ideas, Work Outs + More

 It's been a while! (Again.) Things have been kind of crazy, but I'm thrilled that my husband, my oldest son and myself are vaccinated now (we just got our second doses). I've got my fingers crossed that my younger son can get his first shot this week! (We experienced almost no side effects from the first shot; we all got Pfizer. I had about 12 hours when I felt like I was coming down with the flu, and my son had a headache and a little nausea for about 24 hours. My husband was perfectly fine.)


At the end of April, we had another stretch of adaptation because our school district implemented a new hybrid schedule. The schedule for middle and high school students involves staying in homeroom and attending virtual classes, so my kids chose to stay fully virtual. But their schedule still changed because the bell schedule changed, and I had to spend some extra energy trying to remember when lunchtime is, when they get out of class, etc.

During this pandemic, I've really noticed that sometimes little things suck up my energy, which explains why I don't have the will to do things I normally get done. Sometimes I just accept it (especially if they're temporary), and sometimes I try to figure out ways to eliminate the energy drains. With the schedule, I did both - I accepted it the first week, but as soon the final schedule was released for the following week, I printed out several copies and posted them where I can easily see them so I don't have to keep checking my email.

This post contains affiliate links that help support this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you for using them! You can read CFO's full disclosure here.

Here's more of what's been going on ...

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Thanks to #Read21in21, I'm still reading a lot. I haven't done book roundups the last couple of months, but I do post every book I finish on Instagram. Thus far, I've read over 50 books, which has got to be a personal best for me in such a short time span. (At least as an adult. As a child, I was a voracious reader, and I wouldn't be surprised if I used to read 50 books every month or two.)

Some highlights have been the Port Danby and Book Collector series - lighthearted mysteries that are easy and fun to read. But the book that has had the greatest impact on me was The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh - it helped me understand systemic racism in an articulable way for the first time. It also gave me motivation and tools for continuing to learn and grow to be the person I mean to be.

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Like a lot of people, I'm still cooking a lot. For Easter, I made these Bunny Cinnamon Rolls:


I got the idea from Instagram, although I can't find the post that inspired me. These are just Immaculate  Baking's cinnamon rolls in a can. All I had to do was pull them apart, then unwind each roll a little bit to form the bunny ears.

For Passover, I made this 4-Ingredient Flourless Chocolate Cake, which my husband said was the best cake I've ever made because it was crunchy on top and soft inside. That's not exactly my ideal cake, but I'm probably going to make this every Passover now.

Recently, I made Buri Daikon, which is yellowtail (hamachi) simmered with daikon radish in a soy sauce mixture. It was quite good:


Some super easy meals I make involve cold cuts - either sandwiches or a charcuterie platter. The freshly prepared pasta from Truffle Dealers is delicious, although a little pricey (I order them as add ons to my Edible Gardens LA weekly delivery). My favorite ramen is now Sun Noodle Miso Ramen - it's particularly delicious with some greens and a poached egg. (Their other flavors are good too. My only complaint is that I can't made heads or tails of the expiration date sticker.)

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I signed up for the Peloton app after reading How to Trick Yourself Into Liking Running. I realized that I too would like to have someone encouraging me to push myself, and it's been awesome. (I will admit that the cult-ish way the overall group is referred to as "Peloton," as in, "So glad you're here today, Peloton," is a little off-putting.)

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I can't wait to go to the farmer's market in two weeks, when I'm fully vaccinated. I've really appreciated being able to get deliveries from Edible Gardens LA, and I'll probably continue to order from them at least periodically. But I am so looking forward to picking out my own produce, and buying my sons' favorite tamales and croissants!

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It's Mother's Day, so I can't sign off without wishing all the moms out there a very Happy Mother's Day! But I still remember how hard this day was the year I had my second miscarriage, and I know some have lost their mothers, and others have strained relationships with their mothers or as mothers. If this day is hard for you, please know that you're not alone!

Mar 15, 2021

Shop, Play, Win! Monopoly at Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions: $230,000,000 in prizes! + More Ways to Win

This post is sponsored by Sivan Social. All comments and opinions are my own, honest opinions. Read my disclosure policy here.


If you're an Albertsons shopper, you probably already know about the Shop, Play, Win! Monopoly game that's happening now through May 4th. (Albertsons is the parent company of Vons and Pavilions here in Southern California.) There are over $230,000,000 in prizes and money-saving offers this year!

Every time you shop, you'll earn 1 game ticket for every $25 you spend on qualifying purchases, PLUS 1 ticket for every featured item. Each ticket contains a code that you can scan to win prizes. Download the new Shop, Play, Win! app to easily scan your codes, or enter the codes in your Shop, Play, Win! account. You'll also need a Just for U account, which is free and gets you extra savings. Store level prizes will be loaded to your Just for U account, so you just need to scan your card at checkout (no coupons necessary). For more info, check out the Shop, Play, Win! FAQ.

There are more ways to win!

🠊 Be sure to check your blue Valpak envelope when it comes in the mail - you might be the instant winner of a $100 gift card, plus you'll get details on how to win free groceries for life!

🠊 Enter Savings.com's #GoShopPlayWin gift card giveaway for a chance to win one of SIXTY $100 gift cards to spend at Albertsons Companies stores (ends 3/31).

🠊 RSVP for the #GoShopPlayWin Twitter party at 10AM PT/1PM ET on Thursday, March 25th. You can chat about the game, plus you'll have even more chances to win a $100 gift card!

Good luck, and be sure to let me know what you win!


NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Game tickets end 5/4/21. Must be resident of an eligible U.S. state listed in rules; 18+. Visit www.shopplaywin.com for full rules, incl. how to enter without purchase. Series MON-14. MONOPOLY™ & © 1935, 2021 Hasbro, Pawtucket, RI 02861-1059 USA. All Rights Reserved. TM & ® denote U.S. Trademarks. Hasbro is not a sponsor of this promotion.

Mar 11, 2021

Random Roundup: An Update, Advice, Tips, and More!

Hi, how are you? I apologize for being the friend who says "I'll call" and never does. The volume of posts has plummeted without warning here at CFO, mostly because I find the days just speeding by. I've begun getting certified as a college counselor, so that's taking up some time - in new and challenging ways. I haven't been in school for 20 years, so it's been weird having real homework. But it's also been good: I enjoy what I'm learning, and I'm excited at the prospect of creating a new career for myself. With my youngest being in eighth grade, I want to set myself up for the inevitable time when he goes off to college, and I no longer have the active role of "Mom" to keep me busy every day.

So that's what's been going on with me, and along the way, I've found some things I want to share that I think you'll find useful and/or entertaining:

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If you'll have a kid in college in 2023 or after, you should know that big changes are coming to financial aid. In the second pandemic relief package passed by Congress last year, they tacked on the FAFSA Simplification Act, which reduces the number of questions on the FAFSA, what counts as income, and more. The changes take effect in October 2022, which is when you can file the FAFSA for the 2023-2024 school year. 

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Thanks to #Read21in21, I've been reading a lot this year. Check out my Instagram profile to see all the books I've finished. (I've started quite a few without finishing them - they count toward my daily reading, but don't make it onto the list of "books read" this year.) If you have a book recommendation, send it my way!

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I recently came across this insight from writer Annabelle Gurwitch, in an interview with Gretchen Rubin:

I had a close friendship that hit a snag. At first, I thought I couldn’t get over the hurt I believed my friend had caused. Then, I realized my own responsibility in the situation, but I was still upset and thought it was unsurmountable—this is a friendship-ender. I just couldn’t land on how I wanted to proceed, but then I asked myself, “How important is it?” The incident and the bad feelings that resulted were upsetting, but not as important as our long-standing friendship, which I decided was an essential part of my inner circle. Now, that question didn’t resolve our issues, but it allowed me to focus on repairing the relationship and by asking the same question of other situations I was facing, it eliminated some other challenges I was spending time on that weren’t worth my attention.

She's articulated a process I went through last fall when a relative deeply hurt my feelings. Like her, I concluded that the relationship was too important to forfeit. But I wish I'd been as articulate about my conclusion.

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Almost exactly a year ago, not knowing what to expect with the impending quarantine/lockdown, I stocked up on canned tuna. As I was planning my menu for last week, I thought I should start using the cans, when David Lebovitz fortuitously published a recipe for tuna melts. I didn't take pictures, but they were delicious. (I skipped the capers because I didn't have any, used parsley instead of dill because that's what I had on hand, and mixed the gruyere with some shredded mozzarella for extra meltiness.)

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It looks like my kids will be heading back to school at the end of April, or at least, we'll have the option to send them back to do their classes online in a classroom. No, that's not a typo. Apparently, they can go back twice a week with half of their homeroom class in their homeroom teacher's classroom. The teacher will provide some social, emotional and college support/instruction/activities, but most of the day will be spent doing what they do at home - attending class through a screen, while their homeroom teacher teaches their own classes. It's not ideal, but we'll probably do it since the kids could really use some time outside the house, and they would at least get to see a few friends. Which isn't to say I don't have anxiety about this, because I do. It would sure make me feel a lot better if vaccines were more widely available by then.

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My oldest turns 16 this month! We're not doing anything big, and we're definitely not getting him a car, but he asked for a surprise cake, so I decided on a rolled ice cream cake, a mashup of this Smitten Kitchen recipe and this Barbara Bakes recipe. My plan is to prepare the cake according to Smitten Kitchen's directions, use Cherry Garcia ice cream, and cover it with the Barbara Bakes ganache. I'm going for an result reminiscent of Baskin Robbins' Roll Cake with Cherries Jubilee, which was my mom's choice for a birthday cake when I was growing up. (I did consider this money cake, but decided it was a bit much. Maybe for high school graduation, though.)

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I really enjoyed this insight into how one family's food expenses changed from 2019 to 2020. I haven't tracked my own family's expenses, but I'm sure ours have gone up too. For one thing, I'm not shopping around for deals much, and I hardly use any coupons. My pantry is also more fully stocked than it normally is, because I'm never sure when I can get something if I run out. Has your food spending changed since the pandemic started?

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I'll leave you with a link to the tweets I've liked. They're mostly cute animal videos, and the perfect way to get a feel-good fix when you need one! 

Feb 16, 2021

Tips for Reading More + What I Read: January 2021

 If you follow me on Instagram, you know I've been reading a lot in 2021, thanks to Gretchen Rubin's challenge for the year, #Read21in21. The idea is to read for 21 minutes each day, but I'm finding that I'm reading a lot more - especially if I'm reading a novel and I just have to know what happens next.

If you want to read more, I highly recommend setting a daily goal like #Read21in21, and then scheduling it in your day. I haven't missed a day yet, and that's because I always do my 21 minutes before I get out of bed each morning. Basically, I now read books instead of email. And my pattern is to read a small section of a challenging book, and then move on to something lighter for the remainder of the time. I've already finished two books that I had trouble getting through because they were difficult for me.

My other tip is to know how you like to read. It turns out I've completely made the transition to e-books. I'm currently reading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly, which I've had on my bookshelf for over four years. I started it when I first got it, but then set it aside to read her book I Thought It Was Just Me first. When I finished that book last month, I realized that I just don't want to read the hard copy. I want to be able to read in the dim morning light when I first wake up, without turning on a lamp. I want to be able to read at night too. So I wrote off the hard copy as a sunk cost, and used my Amazon No Rush Reward credits to buy the Kindle version of the book. (Almost all of the books I read are borrowed from the library, but I'm going to take my time with this one, so it made more sense to pay for it.)

If you have any book recommendations, send them my way!

What I Read in January (the links in this post to books are Amazon Affiliate links, so I'll make a tiny percentage if you make a purchase at Amazon using them - thank you! read my disclosure policy here):

Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts - I think this was the first Nora Roberts novel I've ever read, and I enjoyed it. The characters are complex but decent, so you root for them.

The Silence of the White City by Eva Garcia Saenz - I'm not sure where I saw this novel recommended, and it was a little dark for my taste. But I wanted to know who the bad guy was, so I kept reading. I suspect it's beautiful in Spanish, but I'm not nearly fluent enough to read it in the original.

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul - I know this memoir ended up on my radar because the author is in a book club with Gretchen Rubin (who's mentioned in the book). Like the author, I love books - they're my teachers and friends, and I wish I'd thought to start keeping a "book of books" when I was young.

Crime School, Dead Famous, Winter House, Find Me, The Chalk Girl, It Happens in the Dark, and Blind Sight by Carol O'Connell - These are books 6 through 12 of the Kathy Mallory mystery series. I'd read the first five books long ago, and I was happy to rediscover the series, though it's not exactly uplifting.




The Case of the Missing Marquess and The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer - I found this series while perusing the mystery recommendations on the library website, and didn't know the first book has already been made into a Netflix movie. I love this female perspective of the Sherlock Holmes universe, and am on the library waiting list for the next books in the series.


Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey by A.J. Jacobs (audio) - This is the third or fourth A.J. Jacobs book I've listened to. I like the way he experiments on himself, so to speak, and it's easy to follow what he's saying. In addition to just making me generally feel more grateful about my blessings, I took away one concrete action step: when I'm having trouble falling asleep, I go through the alphabet and name something I'm grateful for that starts with each letter.

I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough" by Brene Brown - This book took me forever to get through because the material is challenging if you're being honest with yourself. But with #Read21in21, I would read a section every day, then switch to a different book. I got through it slowly but surely, and I grew a lot because of this book. It was really eye-opening.


The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova - I thought this book would would teach me about luck while making me fall in love with poker, but even though she's a good writer, I skimmed right over the technical parts about poker. I did enjoy the book overall - there are real life lessons here.

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin - David Lebovitz mentioned this book in a post about a French tart recipe, and I immediately got it from the library. It's entertaining, and full of fun, crazy stories. Jacques Pepin has led quite an amazing life! But the best part was that it gave me a new insight into my own dad. Born right before World War II, Jacques grew up foraging for food, and he never stopped, even after he moved to the U.S. That made me see that my dad always feels compelled to at least think about catching the fish in the ocean, because it's what he used to do as a boy.









Jan 15, 2021

My Grandma’s Sushi Vinegar Recipe + How to Make Sushi Rice

I've been mentioning my grandma's sushi vinegar recipe over on Facebook for months now. My aunt sent it to me, and it was mind-boggling, because the original recipe called for a whopping 5 pounds of sugar and 6 cups of rice vinegar. My grandmother made a lot of sushi, so it probably didn't take her that long to go through the jug of sushi vinegar that recipe made, but there was no way I was going to commit to making that much. 

When I scaled the recipe down, I found it on the sweet side, so I made a few adjustments. I've been very happy with this version, which I store in a mason jar in the fridge. It would probably keep for years, but I make chirashizushi - bowls of sushi rice topped with sashimi and other accoutrements - about once a week. The amount of sushi vinegar produced by the recipe below lasts three to four months in my house.

Grandma’s Sushi Vinegar 
Makes approximately 2 cups

10 oz granulated sugar (I use organic sugar, which lends a brownish color to the final product, but the rice is still white)
1 1/2 cups rice vinegar 
2 tablespoons kosher salt 

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool completely and store in a glass jar in the fridge. 
A sideview of my jar of sushi vinegar (looks like it's got about one week's worth left) and the 8x8 glass pan I use to mix the vinegar and rice.

To use: For each cup of cooked rice, use three tablespoons of sushi vinegar. Transfer the rice to a shallow dish with a flat bottom (a wooden bowl like this one is traditional, but I just use a glass baking dish). Gently pour the sushi vinegar over the rice, then combine with a rice paddle, using cutting motions to cool the rice, taking care not to smash it. Cover with a damp dishcloth until serving so the rice doesn’t dry out. (Note: I only cook rice in a rice cooker, so I can't give you directions. I have this one, which I got last year and love.)


A bowl of sushi rice topped with hamachi (yellowtail), shredded egg, shredded nori (dried seaweed), and wakame (reconstituted seaweed). I put a cherry tomato in there to break up the dark colors, but it really doesn't belong. 😂



Dec 22, 2020

Happy Holidays!


I've been surprised that even though we can't have any family gatherings this year, the holiday season has still been quite busy. I feel like things are winding down, though - gifts have all been sent and delivered, holiday cards are (mostly) all in the mail, and of course, decorations have been up for a while. (I joined this year's early decorating trend and got the tree up just before Thanksgiving, which I've never done.)

I'm sure I'm not the only one ready to put 2020 in the rear view, but in the meantime, I'm going to try to make this year's Christmas a memorable one, or at least, an enjoyable one. For me, of course, that means good food, so I'm sharing my menu plans in case you need some ideas. 

Tonight, we're having just appetizers, so I'm trying my hand at a new stuffed mushroom recipe and sausage balls, which are apparently a southern staple. I'll also be making this fruit dip and Ina Garten's pan-fried onion dip.

On Christmas Eve, we'll have filet mignon, cheesy pull-apart garlic bread, cauliflower puree, and some kind of potato dish, quite possibly these scalloped potatoes. (I'm skipping Wednesday, when we're having a super easy meal of baked ziti, using frozen sauce, because I have a busy day of orthodontist appointments and a school Zoom meeting.)

Our Christmas breakfast will be this breakfast casserole and some kind of bread (I'm leaning toward this monkey bread). Christmas dinner will be a copycat Honey Baked ham, streuseled sweet potato casserole (there's a small one in the freezer from Thanksgiving), roasted Brussels sprouts, and some kind of bread, probably better-than-Domino's garlic bread.

Of course, there will also be gifts, Zoom calls, and hopefully lots of family time.

I wish you and your loved ones the happiest, healthiest, safest holiday season. Thank you for being a part of the CFO family!

If this is a sad season for you, please know that you are not alone. There are many reasons to be struggling at this time of year. If you would like me to pray for you, please feel free to leave a comment, reach out on social media, send me an email, or use the contact form on this page.

Nov 30, 2020

QVC Holiday Shopping Guide + FIVE Chances to Win a $100 QVC Gift Card

This post is sponsored by Sivan Social and contains affiliate links. All comments and opinions are my own, honest opinions. Read my disclosure policy here.

One of the first things I learned about my mother-in-law more than twenty years ago was that she loves QVC. At the time, I'd heard of QVC and knew it to be the shopping channel on TV, but I didn't know much else.

It wasn't long before I learned that they sell, well, almost everything.

Over the years, I've been the lucky recipient of countless items of clothing, shoes, jewelry, lotion, and even food! I've also made my own purchases, including my most favorite pair of shoes, which are sadly no longer available (because I'd totally get a second pair).

 

As I write this, I'm wearing a camo-pattern Cuddl Duds Fleecewear Stretch Button Front Blazer Cardi (currently available in Fig Heather and Animal print, on clearance for just $19.98 - it's so soft!). I've been the happy recipient of many Cuddl Duds items, and lately, I've been loving the goat-milk lotion and soap by Beekman 1802.

 

QVC has become one of the stores I regularly turn to when I don't know what gift to get for someone. Here are just a few of the items I think would make great gifts this holiday season:

For the ladies in your life, QVC has a huge selection of name-brand beauty products, including Philosophy, Clinique, tarte, and more. You can get the Urban Decay Stoned Vibes 4-piece Holiday Hall of Fame set for just $24.50, Clinique's Detox & Defend set for just $19.50, or a 3-pack of Fizz & Bubble Large Bath Fizzies in Birthday Cake for just $18 (fun stocking stuffer!). But, since the pandemic has made it risky to visit nail salons, the best gift might be the Stedi-Pedi Home Pedicure Folding Platform with LED Light for just $24.33:



Alternatively, who doesn't love jewelry? QVC has SO MUCH to choose from. My mother-in-law has gifted me many pieces over the years, and I can say that they're all excellent quality. While you won't find heirloom pieces that will make a jeweler swoon, you can find something for every style and taste. There's a nice selection of gift ideas for under $25 and cute Disney jewelry, but my taste admittedly runs toward the expensive yet simple, so I want to highlight the Affinity Diamond Snowflake Necklace, which is a pricey $1,709.10:



The category my mother-in-law gifts to me most often is fashion, and I actually have favorite brands. My jeans are all from Denim & Co., and my favorite jackets are Cuddl Duds (one of the major benefits of living in Southern California is that I rarely need a heavy coat). So imagine my delight in discovering that Cuddl Duds makes pants and socks! And given that my current favorite thing to wear is Cuddle Duds fleece, these Cuddl Duds Fleecewear Stretch Lounge Pants ($32) are going on my holiday wishlist:


There's also the Cuddl Duds Ultra Plush Velvet Fleece Pullover Pajama Set ($33.98), which has got to be perfect for winter:


And if you need a stocking stuffer, QVC also has this adorable set of 3 MUK LUKS Jojoba Infused Shearling Ankle Cabin Socks ($22.12):



Finally, I like to give consumable gifts to older folks who don't need more "stuff." QVC has a huge selection of food items, from big names like Cheryl's, Junior's, and Harry & David. But you'll also find unusual items, like Small Batch Organics (granola), Claxton (fruit cake), and Liberty Orchards (fruit & nut candies). In fact, the Small Batch Organics Granola Bark Sampler ($39.29) would make a fantastic gift for a foodie:



Best of all? Savings.com is giving away FIVE $100 QVC e-gift cards!


Enter for your chance to win here, and check out the official rules here. Good luck!