10/28/13

Long Weekend Getaway

I started to write this post 3 months ago about a trip we took back at the end of May. So yes, I am super behind on blogging as usual...

Every since we got married last December, we've been thinking about taking a honeymoon/family trip to Hawaii. Justin has never been and I was only there for a few days years ago. After doing some price checking, I realized a trip to Hawaii is just out of our reach right now. So instead of spending thousands of dollars and taking a week long vacation in a tropical paradise, we opted to do a 3 hour drive north of San Francisco and spend a long weekend on the Mendocino Coast. I don't know where I got the idea that it's a place that I've wanted to visit for a while now. I bring it up on such a regular basis that it's turned into a running joke between us. So we finally bit the bullet and made the trip happened. We ended up spending over 600 dollars for the trip, with a biggest portion of the budget spent on lodging and then food. I was hoping to spend under $500 but I didn't know about the tourist premium one has to pay in a place like Mendocino.

It's not the easiest to take a trip with a toddler but I guess I have to adjust my expectations when I travel as a parent. Trying to keep a nap schedule and making sure the kid has enough room to run around and burn off excess energy definitely puts some restraints on what we can do and when we can do it. I am still trying to figure out a good rhythm when it comes to going on trips with the little man.

The drive to Fort Bragg  took us through Anderson Valley and a quaint little town called Boonville. We stretched out our legs there, got some snacks and checked out the general store. It's quite a sophisticated little town in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.



We stayed at the Beachcomber Inn which is pretty much right on the beach. Our patio opened out onto the road leading to the beach below it. I will never get sick of watching the sunset over the pacific ocean for as long as I live. I wish we spent more time on the beach but for such a short trip we didn't have a lot of down time to just lay out in the sun.

We stayed in one of the suites in the building pictured. Fantastic location on the beach. 




One thing I didn't expect was how expensive everything was. We took the Skunk Train, which is an old fashion steam train that goes through the redwoods. But the train ride was shortened due to a collapsed section in the tunnel along the route. The train ride was enjoyable nonetheless. There was music entertainment and lots of steam which was pretty much all that's needed to keep the little one engaged.


We had dinner at North Coast brewery. Justin ordered the beer sampler and I unfortunately only had couple of sips of his because I was 3 months pregnant. The food was not bad but the best part was the beer samplers!


We did lots of sightseeing around town. Went to the Mendocino Botanical garden to see all the beautiful plants in bloom. Saw a set of whale bones along the way and checked out tide pools at a nearby beach.




Someday when I win the lottery I would definitely buy a vacation home in this part of California for mini family get aways to relax and unwind. But for now I will have to settle for driving along highway 1 to take in the breathtaking views.



7/17/13

What's for Dinner?

I have been the cook of the family ever since moving in together with Justin. The only dishes he can make are BBQ tofu and french toast. I never took the time to learn to cook while living at home or living on my own in my 20s. It also didn't help that I never cooked meat in my life due to being a vegetarian for over a decade. Not a strict vegetarian, I occasionally ate seafood when eating out.

My cooking philosophy have always been just throwing a protein, usually tofu or fake meat and some vegetables in a pan, cook, season and a side of rice, dinner is served. I would try to make something different when the mood strikes me. But I never planned our meals in advance, it's usually cobbled together right before dinner time depending on what we have in the fridge. That's how I would shop for groceries too, just buy whatever produce appealed to me and get the usual proteins for the week.

A few months ago, I had an epiphany while fretting about what to prepare for dinner for the husband and child. I was attending a twice a week night class and wanted to have dinner ready for the two of them before I leave home in the afternoon. So I got organized and put together a grocery list, which was something I've never used before. It helped to know what ingredients I was going to need for the week if there was a dinner menu. Having a list also helps to keep me from buying unnecessary food items.

I used to enjoy taking my time at the grocery store wandering all the aisles and picking out things that catches my eye. After having a child, I can no longer afford the luxury of time to do that. Plus I don't have the brain power to remember everything, there are just too many things to keep track of, so making a list is the only way to go.

Anyway, since I started making a weekly menu, I've been trying out new recipes and making the occasional meat dishes too. Our dinners are more varied now than ever, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Mexican, and American, all in one week.

I had hoped that by shopping in a more systematic way our grocery bill would go down, but that's not the case at all. Our grocery bill hovers around $600 a month, so when I read online about other people's grocery bill of $200-$300 a month, I didn't know what to cut back on. But what I've realized is that having a healthy diet is worth the money. I don't buy fancy food, not even organic, and try to get stuff in bulk when available. It's just that we live in an expensive part of the country and everything cost more here.

Here are some of the meals from these past few months and they all came out pretty tasty.

Black bean Enchiladas.
I started to make granola because Justin eats a ton of cereal. Box cereals are expensive and the packagings are bad for the environment.
I was buying pizza dough from Trader Joe's but hated how hard it was to roll out the dough which always end up in weird shapes. I discovered that pita bread is perfect for a personal sized pizza and it comes out as a crispy crust. 
Sadly,  I still haven't perfected the roast chicken after couple of tries. I am taking a break from it for a while to regain my confidence. 
Lazy taco night. Canned black beans, homemade pico de gallo, Trader Joe's breaded fish and taco shells, mexican cheese and avocado. 
I usually buy frozen pot stickers from Asian supermarkets but you can't beat the fresh made potstickers. The wrappers were store bought. 
This was an ambitious brunch. The hollandaise sauce too forever to make but it sure was delicious and full of calories. Next time I would probably make the sauce the night before to save time.
This was an indulgent night. Canned refried beans, homemade pico de gallo, Trader Joe's guacamole, cheese and big dollops of greek yogurt in place of sour cream. 

Meatless ground, pico de gallo, sliced radishes, lettuce, and mexican cheese. 

This chicken parmesan came out so good. It's not super healthy so I can't make this too often.  

Shepherd's pie with meatless ground. I prefer to use meatless ground as a substitute in my dishes even though we are not vegetarians.
Indian coconut curry with cauliflower, chick peas and carrots. 
For the soup, I used broccoli stalks I saved from other recipes, celery and carrot and homemade lentil leftover from another meal. Sandwich is sautéed mushrooms and cheddar on rye bread.  
I totally lucked out on getting 2 giant bags of blueberries on sale for 99 cents each. The berries were super ripe so I froze one bag and used the other one for this pie. Pie crust was store bought because making pastry is not my cup of tea. I recently saw homemade pies for sale at a farm stand we visited. The pies were selling for $25 each, granted all the ingredients were organic and handmade. Even with the cost of the frozen pie crust, my pie only cost $6.
Another staple that Justin cannot live without is peanut butter. We used to buy giant jars of organic peanut butter online. We don't like  peanut butter like Jif because it's too processed. I've been buying pint size fresh made honey peanut butter from Berkeley Bowl, but I have to get one every week. I looked online and found out how easy it was to make it at home. Bought peanuts in bulk and made some the other day, so easy and delicious and cheap!
Black bean and corn enchiladas with fresh avocado and tomatoes. I was trying to make some guacamole, but the avocados were not quite ripe yet, so it came out more like pico de gallo instead, still tasty though. 

Used the avocado pico de gallo on my eggs this morning. Yum!







7/1/13

New Mortgage

Last December I wrote about our refinancing saga. We finally closed on the refi this April but not after some unexpected road blocks and the saga continues.

The house was both owned by Justin and my mom. During the refi we wanted to take my mom's name off and put my name on the deed instead, thinking it was just a simple signing of paperwork. Well we thought wrong. For some reason the name transfer was recorded by the city as a sale of 50% of the ownership of the house from my mom to me. The sale triggered a city and county transfer tax as would in a real estate transaction even though no money changed hands in our case. We had to pay several thousand dollars extra in closing cost. We were reluctant to pay the transfer tax at first since it was totally unexpected. But the refi couldn't close unless it's recorded by the city. After many phone calls with the city and county, I was told to pay the fee and then fill out some forms to appeal the fees.

So I filed the forms a few weeks ago just found out we are getting a refund from the county processing fee, about 100 dollars, yay! I almost didn't send in the appeal forms because I didn't think a city so strapped for money would refund money from its resident. There's one more form to mail in before the city would decide whether we get a refund or not on the thousands of the dollars we paid. This is obviously the part of the fees we really want back. :) Keeping my fingers crossed.



6/30/13

Catching Up

I realized it's been four months since my last entry. I am so lazy with keeping this blog going. Life has been hectic in our household.

We found out that little D is going to be a big brother come this November to a little sister. The first trimester was no picnic. This was very different from my last pregnancy. Morning sickness is really a misnomer because the nausea came in waves all day long. Anyway I feel normal again after the first trimester but I do still get tired easily just not as bad as those first 3 months. We haven't decided on a name yet. I think it's one of the hardest things about having a child.

This is the little girl at 20 weeks. 

Besides the exciting news of the baby, I also took a twice a week night class to learn some new computer skills that would hopefully help with my career change in the near future. The class went on for 10 weeks and during that time I finally realized I had to get organized about my dinner prep. My old way was to just buy whatever looks good at the store and quickly run it through my head for possible recipes. Every evening I would look in the fridge and feel exasperated about what to make and just whip up the same stuff week after week. My class coincided with my first trimester nausea so the usual stuff I cooked was not appealing to me. I wanted to try out some new recipes to satisfy those cravings. I started to make a weekly menu before going grocery shopping and try to stick to the items on the list. This has made my nightly dinner cooking so much less stressful! One of the lessons I've learned since becoming as a parent is that organization helps to bring some sanity to our chaotic lives.




2/7/13

Driving

Up until 3 or 4 years ago I didn't have a driver's license. For someone who's in her 30s it's kind of unusual not to have one. I grew up in San Francisco where there is a very good public transportation system and you never have to go far for work or school. I walked to my elementary, middle, and high schools because they were never more than 15 minutes away from where we lived. Then I got a bicycle in my early 20s and rode it everywhere. My whole world existed within the 7 square miles of the San Francisco city limit. There is absolutely no need to have a car in the city. But that all changed when Justin and I moved to the other side of the bay.

The first couple of years we lived in Oakland we still rode around on our bikes but got a membership to City CarShare for those occasional trips to other parts of the bay area. The Easy Bay is a lot more spread out and vast than the city and having a car makes life easier. The monthly cost of City CarShare was starting to add up once we started driving more and when Justin finally got a steady job and we had a bit of savings in the bank we decided to buy a car.

Long story short, I wanted an automatic because I've only practiced driving a few times on my parents' automatic car and didn't have a clue about driving manual transmissions. But because Justin insisted on a brand new car instead of a used one like we originally planned, we ended up buying a new manual transmission VW Rabbit with two doors to keep the cost down. It was the antithesis of what I wanted in a car. I had envisioned a used, four door, automatic car with practicality and low budget in mind. But I gave in for the sake of relationship harmony. I still regret not standing my ground on the car because I would've been driving a lot sooner had we not bought a car with stick shift.

Anyway, I got my license using a rented automatic car shortly after our car purchase with the intension of learning to drive stick shift which didn't happen as life got in the way. I've practiced driving our car in an empty parking lot a few times but the shifting and paying attention on the road at the same time was/is hard for a new driver like me. I was also super nervous about damaging our brand new car which made me even more hesitant to drive it. So I haven't done any real world driving at all in the almost 4 years since the car was purchased.

That all changed this morning. I usually walk Desmond to his daycare about 1/2 away. It was drizzling hard enough this morning that I had to decide how to get him there without getting him soaked in the rain. So I decided to drive and let me tell you, it's been quite awhile since I've even been behind the wheel. I had to sit in the driver's seat for a few minutes to remember which peddles were which and how to shift.

Luckily we live on a small street and there was hardly any traffic. We didn't have to go on any big roads with fast traffic. It was all neighborhood driving. I barely kept the car moving in first gear all the way to the daycare. There were only 2 stop signs and no traffic lights on the way. I was so nervous but I did it and am really glad I did. I know I have to slowly build up my confidence driving and getting used to the manual transmission. I know lots of people who drive manual and they all love it, so I should be able to as well and learn to love it.