Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Green and Budget Friendly Baby Shower

Today, I had the pleasure of co-hosting a baby shower at our house with a wonderful friend. In an effort to make this budget friendly and fun, we decided to make it a potluck shower, which took major stress off and gave everyone a chance to contribute. I made stuffed mushrooms with some mushrooms we'd purchased at Sam's on Monday. They went together quickly and were tasty. Others brought fruit salad, pasta salad, chips and dip, a veggie tray, and a green salad... and let's not forget the phenomenal lemon raspberry cake from StickBoy Bakery.

Beth and I decided to make the shower a girl's event and let the guys take the kids to the park (oh, and they stopped for ice cream too). This meant that Beth could use her fancy punch bowl and I could break out the china and cloth napkins. Not only did this make entertaining a little more fun, but it was definitely more budget friendly and environmentally friendly than using paper products. It took me no time to wash up the dessert plates by hand, and the pretty napkins from my grandmother went in the washer with the towels as soon as everyone had made their exit (so that raspberry stains from the cake and cranberry juice from the punch didn't set in).

Since this was Michele's second baby, we opted to do a diaper shower for her, since we knew she'd be needing these the most. Some folks also brought things she'd registered for, which she greatly appreciated, since she wasn't anticipating having a shower. By the end, she'd acquired several different sizes and brands of diapers, so we told her that she'd have to devise a ranking system for them to help everyone else in the crowd who was expecting (I think there were four expectant moms in the mix). :) There were even some diapers given which had some green or natural qualities, which I appreciated. To make my gift a little greener, I reused some nice floral wrapping paper that had come on a large gift, and some pretty purple ribbon and silk flowers.

So, what about you? How do you make showers and entertaining easy, budget friendly, and green? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cupcakes from Heaven

Before we left for San Diego, Benny and I made some chocolate hazelnut cupcakes for his mom and Matt, our brother-in-law, for their birthdays. (A bit belated, but well worth it, I think!)

Since Benny couldn't eat one (he still had the stomach bug), I made them again this week for small group. We've decided they're the most chocolate-y goodness this side of heaven, especially with the Nutella icing on top. (Side note... my grandmother, who has traveled all over Europe, had never experienced Nutella until these cupcakes this afternoon. That should be criminal... to have never had this chocolate hazelnut spread.) The chocolate shavings just add to the yummy goodness. (Sorry the pic is so horrible, something happened to the autofocus and I'm not sure yet how to fix it.) Here's the link to the web magazine where we found the original recipe (check out the table of contents for the recipe, plus more).

That's all the culinary tricks for this week. It's spring break for Mom, so she's here while I wrap up our makeup snow days.

Friday, April 2, 2010

It is Happy Hour somewhere...

Allyson most recent post and mine might share some content in common because we wrote them independently of each other, but they are both good reads.

Somehow Allyson has this ability to get me to do stuff that I normally would not want to do. Example...writing guest blog post is one of them. She sees stuff like writing, gardening, crafty stuff, and pretty much anything else like that as fun. I however see those activities for what they truly are...that's right guessed it...WORK!! I however love my wife way too much, so therefore I guess I can begin the long and "tiny little path on the side of a cliff that even a mountain goat couldn't travel along" journey to finding the zen nirvana state of enlightenment that is writing blog post.

As you know from the most recent post we are in lovely San Diego on a vacation/work trip for Allyson. We have had a great time and been able to see and do a lot of fun things. My post today will be about something I don't often do, but feel I have totally been passed on by the "saving green" bandwagon. HAPPY HOUR...that's much of a save green person that I am I don't have much experience with going to happy hour specials at restaurants. Best I can figure it is because I often like to cook at home or just haven't been in a more urban place where these types of specials are more prevalent.

Enough of the are here to read about the savings.

We spent yesterday morning and early afternoon touring the USS Midway. Decommissioned after Operation Desert Storm and later made into a floating museum, we had a great time learning all about the workings of aircraft carriers and their role in the naval fleet. We left and took the bus to Ocean Beach to get tacos and such at South Beach Bar & Grill. It has become a good local place to go for non-traditional fish tacos. They have some of the best flavor and really fresh ingredients. Mahi, Wahoo, Baja, Shrimp they had a good selection. The prices were good even if we hadn't gone at happy hour, but they are even better during that time. Tacos - 2.50, beer - 3.00 (pints), and appetizers - 1/2 off. We ended up doing carne asada fries (fries, cheese, sour cream and guacamole, and carne asada) and a taco sampler (5 different tacos) plate and two drinks. With tip came to 15 and some change.

The evening was finished off with a trip to Trader Joe's to pickup some things for the return trip, a bottle of wine to pair with our 3 dollar dessert (another 5 dollar coupon for cleaning our room ourselves) we would get at the hotel.

What I learned in all of our eating this week are that there are deals to be had, but you just have to search them out. Happy hours specials are not something I immediately think of doing, but they have been great finds for us this week. I guess I will be a little bit more mindful of these in the future.

There is truth in the statement that it is 5:00 somewhere, but along the same lines of it is 5:00 somewhere that also means that it is happy hour somewhere too.

Happy Eating and good luck making this a weekend for living and saving green.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Awesome Foodie Deals for the Hungry, Budget-Conscious Traveler

This week of travel and sight seeing has been all about finding the local food deals for us, and picking up tips to pass along to you for your future travel adventures.

After my presentation on Tuesday, I came back to the room to change into walking shoes and jeans. We met Linda, my colleague, in the lobby and walked to Little Italy and part of the Gaslamp District here in San Diego. Linda had picked up a tip from the concierge about Two Dollar Taco Tuesdays here in the city (every Tuesday, there are two dollar tacos--yummm!), so we found one of the places that came highly recommended. In addition to the two dollar tacos, they also had two dollar margaritas and Mexican beer, so we each ordered two tacos (you could choose from fish, chicken, or carne asada--steak) and water. Benny ordered a margarita, just to try it out, and later we ordered a fried ice cream for dessert. (Which was huge! Definitely worthy of splitting.) Sorry there aren't pictures of the tacos, we were hungry and I forgot to snag a pic before we all dug into our fantastic grub. Sitting on the street-side patio gave us priority seating and an excellent place for people watching. After our four miles of walking, we opted to take a cab back (which we split) to the hotel, since we hadn't quite figured out the public transit yet.

For breakfasts, we've been doing a protein-packed, high-carb (whole grain variety) meal from room service, which has been exceptionally good and FREE with our AAA $50/day room credit. This has allowed us to cut our eating budget tremendously, and gives us enough energy to get through the day and hit happy hour times after the normal workday for folks, giving us great prices on food and drinks. (I'm not much of one for the bar atmosphere, but I love bar food (fries, potato skins, tacos, etc.), and it's kind of in keeping with the spirit of the city here, so it allows us the chance to see more of the local atmosphere. So, we've been finding some awesome deals on local foods, with a little research.

On Wednesday, after the zoo, we hit up Basic Pizza, which offered an awesome, urban loft dining experience. We started with an organic greens salad, which came highly recommended by the bar tender. Topped with candied walnuts and slices of pear, it was fantastic and plenty for the two of us to share. Since it was happy hour at 4:30 when we stopped by, we had the luxury of discounted wine and beer (Benny enjoyed some of the local brews, while I had a wonderful prosecco), as well as samples of their wood fired pizza (AMAZING!). The wait staff was very well trained and attentive, without hovering.

Yesterday, we took the city bus ($5 for a day pass, vs. bookoos of bucks for cabs) out to the Midway Aircraft Carrier (we took advantage of the student/educator discount, which was better than the AAA discount) for some sight seeing. After touring the carrier and seeing awesome views of the bay, we took the bus out to Ocean Beach, where we had some awesome views of the Pacific, as well as seeing some of the residential areas we might not have otherwise seen if we'd stuck closer to the hotel and conference center. While in Ocean Beach, we ate at the South Beach Bar and Grill, which Benny researched (so we knew to have our IDs out and ready, since they card everyone; a great practice OMHO). They had awesome local takes on bar food, such as mini seafood tacos and carne asada fries. Since it was happy hour (yep, we timed that on purpose), we were able to get these for half price, since they were appetizers, and drinks were reduced. I had an awesome raspberry iced tea, while Benny enjoyed a favorite beer. (Pics of this food to come on Benny's guest post.) When we left the restaurant, we found a strip of antique stores, which we enjoyed puttering around in for a while. (As an aside, we found some super cool abacus lamps, but I couldn't figure out how to get them in our carry-on luggage to get them home--or where I would put them at home.)

Each day, we've found that we had enough left over from our $50/day tab at the hotel to allow for a dessert in the evenings, which has been a nice treat. (I feel like we can do the extra calories, since we're walking an average of 4-5 miles each day.) The creme bruele has been wonderful, especially with the fresh raspberries. So, if you're at the Sheraton Bay and Marina location in San Diego, check it out.

All in all, we've been able to keep our food budget to about $20/day (not including our AAA deal at the hotel for breakfast). Not too shabby for two people who love to experience travel through food!

So, a few tips for traveling on the cheap, but still getting the taste of local cuisine:

1. Do your research, and don't be afraid to ask. (If we hadn't, we wouldn't have known about the two dollar tacos on Tuesdays.)

2. Take advantage of happy hour deals, even if you don't drink. Bartenders are happy to serve you something nonalcoholic, and they will often do "virgin" versions of popular drinks, if you ask. Since they stock a wide variety of juices and sodas, there's no reason not to ask. The food at these places can be amazing, if you do your research.

3. Use public transit to beef up your food budget. The public transit is cheaper and gives you more of a feel for how the local folks live, which is nice (I think).

4. Check our newspapers and brochures for coupons or advertised deals. Often, if you mention an ad, you'll get some sort of discount or free appetizer.

5. Ask about membership or student discounts. If you're in a college town, they will likely have student discounts, even if they're only 10%. (This allows you enough to offer a nice tip.)

6. Pack snacks or find a grocery store to purchase some at a reasonable cost. We keep these in our book bag so that we don't have to pay tourist prices for so-so food at sight seeing destinations and the airport. We also take a stainless steel canteen to fill with water before we leave the hotel; this way, we always stay hydrated and don't pay $3 for a drink somewhere.

What about you? How do you save money on food when you travel? Any tips for others traveling to San Diego?