Monthly Archives: December 2012

$100 Mastercard Gift Card for $91

This isn’t as exciting as 5x Ultimate Reward points for gift cards purchased at Office Depot, but 9% cashback (plus more if you have a credit card that bonuses grocery store spend) isn’t bad!

I just logged into my Safeway just for U account and saw a one-time offer for $15 off a $100 Mastercard Gift Card purchase in any combination when purchased by January 5.

You can make use of the deal with any combination of Mastercard gift cards that add up to $100, but with a $5.95 activation fee for each, your best bet is do one $100 card.

How to take advantage of this deal?

1. Sign in to your Just for U account or create a new account.  You need to already be registered for their club card in order to sign up, so if you don’t have one, go to your local Safeway (they don’t have an online means) and sign up for a club card and Just for U at the same time.

2. Go to the Coupon Center and scroll down til you see the $15 off $100 Mastercard Gift Card offer. (If you sort by About to Expire you’ll see if come up under 1/5/13)

3. Click Add.

It will work instantaneously so you add this to your card as you’re standing in the check out line.

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Fun With Root Vegetables

In recent months I’ve been making some progress on my cooking skills — venturing off the recipe path to innovate or at least add more of the flavors I love most. A recent visit with friends left me even more wistful of those who boldly go where no recipes exist. Building toothsome dishes based on their culinary knowledge and tastes.

So on my recent visit he crafted two dishes which left me wanting more and an anti-social desire to rub them all over my face. And what were the amazing dishes? One was a kale, garlic, mushroom, tomato, onion based rice dish. And the other, winter comfort food.

Comfort food in the form of roasted root vegetables caramelized with balsamic vinegar. I aspire to no other comfort! The rice dish I didn’t master, but at least finally managed a passable copy. The root vegetable dish I was nervous about. I mean, I didn’t even know I liked parsnips. or beets. or cooked carrots. (Actually I knew I didn’t like cooked carrots.) So how could I possibly figure out to how to make this dish.

One day my longing gets the better of me so I head to the produce section of my grocery store, get confused, and text my friends for instructions on which root vegetables to buy.

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Parsnips (I didn’t even know what one looked like)
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Fingerling potatoes
  • Avoid turnips or rutabegas (sp?)

I finally find all those items, buy them, and panic. For a week they sit in my fridge until it’s time to go home for the holidays. Dismayed by the idea of losing $15 in produce, I stick most of the ingredients in my checked bags in the hopes I’ll make the recipe at my parents’.

And I finally did! So the instructions I got from my master chef friend was in two text messages: cut up all of the above ingredients, toss them in oil, bake them at 425-450 for 45-60 minutes. Stir occasionally, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper 20 minutes before pulling them out. Easy right?

Well the first problem is I don’t know how one prepares parsnips, so I google it. Apparently you want small ones (mine was huge bc it was $5 per parsnip, not per lb). If you have a large one, you need to peel it and then remove the woody core. Well, the core looked the same as the rest of it, so I just hacked away at removing the middle, hoping for the best.

The second was that I didn’t know how to prep beets. Another google, you peel and quarter them.

I managed the carrots and onions, but then panicked at the sweet potatoes. Do you peel them or just scrub them really well??? I opted to peel and that turned out ok.

Then I tossed all of this in oil and poured onto a cookie sheet to roast. I poured too many and in retrospect I’d do multiple batches to make sure they have enough room to roast. I’d also (in retrospect) cut the pieces much smaller, maybe only 1-2 inches in size for everything except sweet potatoes and onions so they’ll cook more evenly.

But at the 20 min mark I looked in and they seemed to be happily roasting. I turned them over and then started stirring them about every 10 minutes. At the 40 minute mark I drizzled lots of balsamic vinegar and generous amounts of fresh ground pepper and salt. From that point on I stirred every 5 minutes, finally pulling out the pan around the 58 minute mark.Image

And it turned out great! Everything had a really nice crunchy crust with warm, fairly soft, insides and the most glorious sweet tanginess with no sugar added other than the balsamic. You may want to improve upon the presentation though. 🙂

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$5 off $25 Purchase on Amazon

A great gift from Amazon — $5 off a $25 purchase for sharing on Facebook what’s at the top of your gift list!

Quantities are limited, so hurry and claim yours now!

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4AM should not be familiar to anyone

For about a month this year I went through a rough patch of sleep. And by rough, I mean waking up around 4AM every morning without fail, regardless of when I would go to bed. 9PM, midnight, even 2AM, nothing and no amount of melatonin could apparently prevent my eyes from popping open during the 4 o’clock hour. And of course, I couldn’t be so lucky as to be wide awake and ready to get stuff done. No, I would just lie there in a zombie-like state wishing for the sleep that wouldn’t return.

It wasn’t the first time in my life that I’d been up at 4. Some festive evenings would find me winding down at 4AM, other mornings would find me up and at ’em to catch a flight or hit the road. But those days weren’t consecutive.

It was almost with despair a few weeks into the problem that I realized 4AM had become familiar. All the noises of delivery trucks, early buses, and that one noisy car heading into work for an early shift, I recognized. The twilight was no longer held that “middle of the night” feel. Even the smells of cooled earth and dewy vegetation had become common.

And I didn’t like it. I’m an early riser, I love the look, smell, and sound of sunrise. But the experience of the 4 o’clock hour — neither night nor day, a restive, unenthusiastic hour that so perfectly reflected the feelings of my sleep deprived soul — that I could do without.

So I guess I should be glad that when insomnia kicked in last night it was at 1:30AM?

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When you should have checked the mirror one more time before leaving…

Today I am the victim of a new outfit, a product of my own carelessness. The item was picked out with my mom, so though it has a slightly low cut V neck I assume it’s fine, or there would have been some mention of wearing a tank top under it.

So when I get in the car and look down, I realize the neck is a bit lower when sitting than standing. Hmmmm. Although I enjoy working in a light-hearted office, flashing unsuspecting co-workers doesn’t add to the atmosphere. I immediately start ransacking my desk for a safety pin. No luck, not even a name tag badge to yank one off. I go ask several co-workers. Again no luck.

So then I start getting creative and find a paper clip, name badge clip, and tiny binder clip, opting for the latter. It has a tendency to snap off when I’m reaching for something but is otherwise more invisible than a paper clip and more comfortable than the thicker metal of the name badge clip.

Other random office fixes I’ve found useful?

  • Markers for fixing scuffed shoes
  • Whiteout for pantyhose runs above the hemline

The one thing I can’t live without is my Tide-To-Go Pen for quickly getting out stains. What do-it-yourself “fixes” have you come up with?


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These are a few of my favorite (food) things…

A few weeks ago on I offered my gift ideas for travelers, now here’s one for casual foodies! All things I myself wouldn’t mind getting this year 🙂

1. Old Bisbee Roasters Coffee — Coffee roasted to order and shipped two-day, available in whole bean or choice of grind. Ever changing selections from small coffee plantations around the world. The real answer to free trade inclinations. Also some of the best decaf I’ve ever had! New customers should sign up for their email list for $5 off your first order.

2. Robbins Family Ascalano Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar — I never dreamed how much I loved olive oil or that I liked Balsamic Vinegar at all until I tasted them at Kenneth Volk Vineyards. Fortunately they have an online store, so everyone can enjoy. It’s also family run — I got a sweet note from one of the owners who packed my shipment.

3. Cheddar with Thai Curry — One of the most unique cheese’s I’ve tried (that’s saying something!) and perfect with a gewurztraminer or sweet riesling. Plus you get free two day shipping from with!

4. Chocolate for Wine Pairing — Chocolate goes great with various red wines based on % of cacao (and supposedly even with some whites). You can probably find many options locally, but if not, I suggest Godiva’s Large Belgian Chocolate Bar Set or Wine Lover’s Chocolate Gift Set.

5. Wine Aroma Kit — My time in the Mendoza Smell Room vastly improved my ability to discern different flavors in wine. This gift isn’t cheap, but for someone getting in to wine, you can make every bottle they drink that much more fun. Not to mention its dual purpose as a party game.  It’s definitely a luxury gift. I’m still saving up to afford one.

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Things I Wish I’d Known About Selecting & Decorating a Christmas Tree

I’ve been around Christmas trees every holiday of my life. And yet, when it came time to deck my halls on my own this year, I was thrown by unexpected issues. So, for the person who, like me, has apparently seen without observing all their lives, here are some handy tips

Look at multiple trees. I went in to Home Depot bright and early the Sunday after Thanksgiving and headed straight for the 5’-6’ section. I didn’t really know the difference between Douglas, Frasier, or Balsamic (I still don’t) other than the way the needles look. So I went for the value and chose Frasier. I started unwrapping one of the trees which actually appeared pretty full and well branched in the 30 secs I spent shaking it out. Having no one to consult and thinking that this was one of those times when you really could find the best tree on the first try, I bought it, delighted that I could get in and out within 15 minutes. Well, get the tree home, and it looks great, except it’s missing what would be the butt region on a person. Or not missing exactly, but excessively sparse. So I’m just turning that portion of the tree near the wall…

Get a stand with good quality control. On the way out of Home Depot I grabbed a capacious tree stand good for trees up to 8 feet tall. I get the stand home, and begin the simple task of screwing the metal tree anchors through the holes in the stand. And discover after 30 minutes of painful twisting, that one of the five holes is a tiny bit too small to allow the tree anchors through. And now I’m too tired to head back out to Home Depot for a replacement, so I resign myself to a potentially lopsided tree. That will just be part of its charm!

This independent do-it-yourself attitude being too much for me, I wait a few days before putting on the lights and ornaments I bought.

Beware mini light sets that say they’re twinkling. I assumed, in my speedy 30 minute visit to Target that I was so proud of, that twinkling meant it was optional. So I decide I probably won’t do twinkling this year and string them around 1/3 of the tree with the rest of the lights. Well I should have read more closely, because it’s 20 twinkling and 80 steady, no option to turn it off. So my tree does look slightly like it’s having spasms around its midsection since none of the other strings twinkle.

Beware resin. My live tree may not smell, but boy is it sappy. While stringing my lights and hanging my ornaments I became well bedaubed with resin. This leads to the next tip…

Don’t assume they smell.

On to the happy tips! When choosing lights, do get a string of small red globes, they’ll look like berries on the tree. And get a pickle ornament. There’s just something happy about that artificial green reflecting the lights.

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Chinese Comfort Food in Annandale, VA

Last night I finally got to experience a restaurant I’ve been hearing about for awhile. Authentic Chinese food different from my usual fare and still different from Americanized Chinese food. A delightful, low key place that only takes cash and non-native speakers are definitely in the minority: A & J Restaurant in Annandale, VA.

In addition to great food, it’s also very inexpensive with dishes running $3.95-$7.95. There were 4 of us and we wound up ordering about 7 different dishes which totaled only $33 including tax.

Food started coming out almost immediately after we ordered, beginning with the cucumber in chili oil cold appetizer. That was my favorite! Something about the soothing cold cucumber with a spicy aftertaste. Next to arrive was the smoked chicken. I’m not a huge fan of chicken on the bone, although this hardly could be considered such. It was very tender and moist, and easy to manage with chopsticks. Good, but not one of my favorites.

The chicken was quickly followed by a braised pork rice with braised egg dish. Braised egg apparently means hard boiled, and at first glance I thought it was still in the shell (it wasn’t). The pork was pleasantly spicy but the texture of the boiled egg didn’t quite seem to go for me. Still, quite tasty and a bargain at <$5.

Read the full review on!

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