Chocolate Cake, Anyone?

Chocolate Cake with KissesJanuary 27 is National Chocolate Cake Day. It’s another one of those lesser known food holidays that you tend to find out about via Facebook or Twitter.

Of course, I had to send a quick shout out to my favorite dessert!

And, let me clarify: I’m not talking about yellow cake with chocolate frosting (my mom’s favorite). I’m talking about a dense, dark chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

Oh wee!!! Just thinking about it makes me crave it even more.

So, in honor of the day, please have some chocolate cake for me. Or, at the very least, join me in drooling over the cake photo in this post.

In case you prefer to bake your own cake, here are some great chocolate cake recipes. If you don’t eat chocolate cake (the horror!), well…enjoy the rest of your day. šŸ™‚

 

What food do you think deserves a holiday?

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My Frugalista Life

So, it’s 747pm on a Saturday night. I’m at home thinking about all of the tasks on my long list of things to do.

And, then, I pause and think, “I want to read right now”. Way to go getting those tasks completed, Lexyne! Yes, I know. Moving on…

About once I month I trek to my local library branch and check out books on various topics. Not only is this saving me time and money, but I love going to the library and browsing the book aisles. Lately, the books that I have been borrowing relate to my business in some kind of way (start-up texts, management guides, cookbooks, etc.).

Picture of The Frugalista Files bookHowever, on this last trip, I picked up a book called The Frugalista Files. I don’t remember how I heard about the book…I think it was on Twitter. But I do remember that I immediately logged on to the Chicago Public Library website to see if it was available. Yes, it was! (Sidenote: Can I tell you how much I love the Chicago Public Library?! Every time I need a book, it is there. But I’ll save my gushing for another post.)

Anyway, the book–which is an out-growth of the blog by the same name–was written by Natalie P. McNeal, a self-described “promiscuous spender”. At first I thought that it seemed like a pretty harsh description. But I understood once I starting reading more of her book. To say that she was care-free with her spending is an understatement. And, unfortunately, hers is a tale that is all too common nowadays. But the difference here is that she took a moment to think about her financial future. And the future didn’t look so good.

So Natalie decided to take a radical approach and cut out spending for an entire month. When that proved successful, she continued for another month, and so on.

I have read about half-way through the book and am pleasantly surprised to find that I can relate to Natalie’s story. I wasn’t quite the spender that she was; in fact, I am much more of a penny pincher than her. However, I noticed that I already (had) have been living the “Frugalista” life, which is trying to spend less in order to get out of debt.

My mountain of debt was accrued the old-fashioned way: via student loans and a mortgage. Only recently have I had credit card debt. And that has been due mostly to re-channeling funds for the household so that I can free up a little cash for my business. I know some financiers would probably scowl at that assessment. But, trust me: I’m only talking a few hundred on the credit card. Remember, I said that I was already living the Frugalista life.

But Natalie’s recipe for frugal living (spend only on the things you need, not what you want, when paying down debt) has proven to be serendipitous for her. And, I can speak from experience that it has kept me accountable to my debts, especially when considering what I buy and why I buy it.

So, if you are looking to revamp your spending habits in the new year, check out Natalie’s book and her blog for some inspiration. It has definitely inspired me to keep going, knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Do you have tips to share about living the Frugalista life?

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National Cookie Day

Cookie. It is such a simple word. But it brings happiness to a lot of us.

Think about it. Say “cookie” out loud. What are you thinking about? I’ll bet a great childhood memory, a delicious sugary sweet, or maybe that triggered a craving and now you want to eat one.

Chocolate Chip CookiesWhatever the case may be, cookies are a treat that can inspire (they motivated me to one of my very first posts in this blog), comfort, or bring joy. And today, December 4th, cookies are given the honor of a national day of remembrance.

So, in honor of the most popular of them all, here is one of my favorite recipes. It is the NestlƩ Toll House recipe that helped to jump start my budding career as a baker when I was a child. And, it has continued to be the standard by which I judge all chocolate chip cookies.

I encourage you to skip the pre-made cookie dough package in the grocery store and bake them from scratch. It might add a few minutes to your task, but the flavor and goodness of a freshly baked cookie is second to none.

  

Original NESTLƉĀ® TOLL HOUSEĀ® Chocolate Chip Cookies
Retrieved from VeryBestBaking.com

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLƉĀ® TOLL HOUSEĀ® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 375Ā° F.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

VeryBestBaking.com also has instructions for pan cookie, slice and bake, and high altitude variations of this recipe.

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4 Super Cleaning Products

Have you ever walked down the cleaning aisle in the grocery store and just looked at the hundreds of products? Among the sea of brightly-colored labels, you know there is a bottle, spray, or wipe that will clean and disinfect your kitchen and/or bathroom. But which one should you choose?

It has been my experience to buy one product that does everything. Fewer bottles equals less money to spend. All good, right? Well, maybe.

Buzz words like “biodegradable”, “renewable”, “sustainable”, and “reusable” have quickly permeated the colloquial lingo in the last couple of decades due to increased demand by environmentally-consciousĀ consumers. In response, major cleaning brands have been reformulated to contain more environmentally safe ingredients. Still, the biodegradable products generally cost more than their original formula counterparts.

But I am here to tell you that you do not need to spend big bucks on cleaning products to help the environment. After doing a little research (i.e., read an issue or two of the latest home magazine), I discovered that there are products in my kitchen that do the same job as these major cleaners, but cost less money. Not only are these products food-safe, but they are also environmentally friendly. Bonus!

The amazing “super cleaning” products are baking soda, lemon,Ā salt, and vinegar. Yes! You read that right!

Of course, these super cleaners are readily available in any grocery store. And, they are typically sold at a fraction of the cost of commercial products, which is great news to those who are tightening budgets in the current economy.

The powers of each of the super cleaners has been chronicled elsewhere, and there are plenty of websites devoted to the topic. So I have listed below ten of my favorite uses (please feel free to share your favorite uses as well) for each of the super cleaners and some helpful sites for exploring the uses of each of them. Happy cleaning!

 

  1. Spray vinegar on shower doors with hard water stains and mildew. Wait 5-10 minutes, then clean with light scrubbing and water.
  2. Remove tea and coffee stains inside mugs by rubbing salt over them.
  3. Clean drains in the kitchen and bathroom by pouring baking soda and vinegar down the sink. Wait 30 minutes and then flush with very hot water.
  4. Make a paste of equal parts vinegar and salt to clean tarnished brass, copper, and pewter.
  5. Clean the microwave with light scrubbing using a damp cloth and baking soda.
  6. Remove the smell of onions from hands with a lemon wedge.
  7. Disinfect a cutting board with a spray of vinegar and/or rub of a lemon wedge.
  8. Pour a salt brine down kitchen sink drains to prevent greasy buildup.
  9. Use 1/2 cup of lemon juice in the wash cycle to brighten whites.
  10. Make a paste of baking soda and 3% peroxide as an alternative toothpaste.

 

Other helpful websites
1001 Uses for White Distilled Vinegar
Salt Uses & Tips
51 Fantastic Uses for Baking Soda
34 Reasons to Load Up On Lemons


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Would You Shop on Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is one week away. And, apparently, it is the latest holiday to get cut short by major retailers who are instituting new extremes like opening stores on Thanksgiving day to encourage more consumers to take advantage of Black Friday sales and discounts.

As an entrepreneur, I understand that time is money; and, the more time one has to shop, the more money she is likely to spend. However, opening stores at midnight–or, in Toys R Us’s case, 9:00pm–means that employees will have to leave their families and homes behind hours prior to opening in order to get the stores ready for the customers. And since the stores will be open all night, employees will probably spend Thanksgiving getting some shut-eye prior to going to work. Additionally, customers looking for those 15-minute only “door-busting” deals will likely leave home early to stand in queues at the door.

Has the economic situation become so dire that we, as a country, do not even care to stop for an entire day to give thanks for all that we have?

And, is Thanksgiving destined to become a frivolous federal holiday (similar to Presidents’ Day or Columbus Day) that will serve primarily as an excuse to take the day off from work so that we can barbecue and/or shop?

I sure hope not. What do you think?

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The Frustrated Blogger

Lexyne’s note: This post began as my attempt to get over a short period of writer’s block, hence the title. As I continued to write, however, it morphed into a brief comment on the current state of affairs surrounding the Penn State sexual abuse/rape allegations. I decided to keep the post as is to 1) show my stream of consciousness as this is really a “journal” post and 2) to express my sentiments regarding the crisis. As such, I felt that the original title served as an appropriate summation of my thoughts.Ā 

I have been attempting to write a blog post now for over two weeks. I have yet to complete it, even though I have pictures edited and cropped, sources researched and referenced properly, and the bulk of the words in place. But I am having a problem: for some reason, I just cannot finish it. ARGH!!!!!

I think this is my first case of writer’s block. And, for the record, it sucks.

I have read that this is a troubling issue for many writers; and the block can last anywhere from a few hours to years. In an effort combat the block, over the last few days I have tried to get motivated to write by reading other blogs (like this great tribute post/obituary about legendary hip hop artist Heavy D) and books hoping for some inspiration, to no avail. Even my favorite Tazo chai tea in my favorite mug did not work.

I always drink my homemade grande soy chai tea out of this mug.

I eventually turned to the news hoping to find something that I would be interested in writing about. But, unfortunately, all that I kept seeing was bad news. However, once I delved further into what I perceived my writing block issue to be, I determined that the news was part of the problem.

With the latest revelations about the Penn State sexual and rape allegations, Herman Cain’s sexual harassment issues and recent flubs about Libya, and the deaths of Joe Frazier and Heavy D who were giants in the African American community, it is understandable that I have been troubled, which likely affected my ability to write.

The situation with Penn Stateā€”including the heated discussions surrounding Joe Paterno’s involvement, or lack thereofā€”have soured many attitudes (including mine) against the school while revealing devastating secrets held by the university’s administration. Public opinions concerning the case include expressions of outrage and incredulity regarding Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s former defensive coordinator, and his alleged sexual abuse of eight children over the course of a decade.

Although Paterno and others admitted to prior knowledge of Sandusky’s alleged assaults, they have been condemned in the general public for failing to alert the police in an effort to stop further abuse from occurring. Penn State’s current linebacker coach, Mike McQueary, testified to the Grand Jury that he witnessed Sandusky raping a child in the football building in 2002. After informing Paterno and the athletic director of the incident, he too, did not discuss the matter further with police.

Amid the fallout, Paterno and then-president of Penn State, Graham Spanier, were both released from their employment contracts by the Board of Trustees. Others involved have been placed on forced leave by the university.

But the more important concern should, of course, lie with the victims of the alleged sexual assaults, who haveā€”againā€”been victimized by the firestorm surrounding the crisis.

Even though I do not know who they are, I am worried for the young boys, who should now be in or near adulthood, and especially their mental health. I am sure that they are facing their share of turmoil that will likely continue for many years to come as the civil lawsuits begin. I hope that the young men have been receiving therapy and support from friends and family. Additionally, I pray that the young men find some semblance of peace amid so much chaos.

When thinking about all of the events surrounding the Penn State crisis, I have tried not to judge the actions of those involved, especially when I have no understanding of their circumstances or beliefs. However, I will never understand completely how or why none of those highly influential members of the Penn State community did not break from their collegial loyalties in order to protect children who were not able to protect themselves.

It is an unfortunate and disheartening reflection of their moral and ethical values. But, even more devastating, it is also a reflection of the larger disjointed community that comprises all of us. I hope that we learn from our mistakes.

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Pumpkin Seeds

If you are carving that holiday pumpkin in preparation for Halloween or planning on making a pumpkin pie using fresh pumpkin, don’t throw those seeds away!

With a little extra effort, you can turn those seeds into a great (and healthy-er) snack. See below for the recipe.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Scoop out seeds from a pumpkin using a sturdy spoon. Place seeds in a bowl of cold water to facilitate separation from the pulp and strings. It is okay if you do not remove all of the pulp completely as it adds flavor to the roasting process.

Drain seeds and let dry slightly. Toss seeds in butter or oil of your choice along with salt, pepper or whatever spice(s) you desire. (I used salt and garlic powder on the seeds in the final photo).

Spread seeds evenly in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast about 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove sheet pan from oven and allow the seeds to cool completely before eating. Enjoy!

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The Great Pumpkin

By the end of every October in the United States, one is likely to see pumpkins (or winter squash) in grocery stores or out on neighbors’ lawns as part of a Halloween display. Indeed, Halloween serves as the first “official” holiday of the fall season. And the array of pumpkin sightings do not stop there as they are also on the television in the form of cartoons, such as the famous Peanuts short, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or being used on-screen in the scary movies playing back-to-back on the local movie channel.

Being the food enthusiast that I am, however, I always look forward to the fall season for the obviousā€”and originalā€”use of the pumpkin: food. Pumpkins sometimes get a bad rap because they are big, messy, a little slimy, and not your average fruit*. But, if you are willing to look past all of the those things, I guarantee that you will never look at a pumpkin the same way. And, you will probably never (ever!) think about buying canned pumpkin again.

Each year I cannot wait to buy the biggest pumpkin that I can find. For the few dollars that the gourd costs, you can create a wide variety of meals, desserts, and snack options that will likely keep your taste buds happy well into the next month. Perhaps the most famous dish to create is pumpkin pie; but I have enjoyed everything from pumpkin soup and pumpkin ice cream to pumpkin doughnuts and pumpkin pancakes.

Of course, in order to make these wonderful recipes, first you will need to extract the flesh from the pumpkin. There are many methods for doing this, but I highly recommend roasting the pumpkin in the oven and then pureeing it. A description on how to do so is given at the end of this post.

I encourage you to find an alternative use for that fresh pumpkin this year. It is not just a decoration but a door to a wonderful food journey.

* Pumpkins have seeds and, therefore, are classified botanically as fruit.

How to Roast a Pumpkin

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut the pumpkin in half across the middle. Scoop out the seeds and reserve for roasting or other use.

Placing the seeds in a bowl of cold water eases the separation between the pulp, strings, and seeds.

Place pumpkin halves, cut-side down, on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. If the pumpkins are too large, you may need to do this step twice for each half.

Place pumpkins in the oven and let roast for 45-60 minutes, or until the flesh is soft enough to easily pierce with a fork.

Remove the sheet pan from the oven and allow the pumpkin to cool. Caution! The pumpkin will be very hot!

Once cooled, remove the skin and puree the softened flesh with a hand blender or food processor, adding water as necessary to facilitate the puree.

Freeze or refrigerate pumpkin puree in airtight storage containers for future use. Be sure to label all storage containers with the contents and date of packaging to ensure proper food-handling.

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Getting Back on Track

Hello, everyone. My name is Lexyne and I am a start addict.

What is a start addict? Well, for me, it goes a little like this: I start something. And then I start something else. And then I start another thing, until I have multiple tasks that can (sometimes) get a little overwhelming–especially when they need to be finished simultaneously. Call me a glutton for multi-tasking, but that is how I have always been.

Inevitably, one of the things that I started gets neglected. Case in point: this blog. I began with the intent of writing monthly. Then that changed to weekly. But since this summer, I have written nothing. What happened? Well…life.

I found a new job. And, in the meantime, I found a new location for Savor. It has been an exciting and busy time, to say the least. And, I welcome the new directions in my life as change is good. Yet, during these last few months, I realized that I need also to maintain a healthy dose of creative expression.

I used to write stories as a child; but I pushed that creative portion of myself to the side over the years as I focused more on school and my career. Still, I miss writing. A lot. So this post begins my effort to get back on track.

OK. Enough confessions for the day. I took the first step. Now, on to the next one…

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The Business Plan

Every business should begin with a plan. It seems like a trivial idea. However, many small business owners–myself included–begin their operations without first writing a plan.

While the business plan is not mandatory, it is recommended for various reasons. Most notably, it is critical to have when searching for financing. However, I want to stress that there is much more involved than the financial outlook. The document also defines your mission, business goals, and overall vision for your company.

From my personal experience, I can say that the vision and mission of my business where well-defined in my mind. But I had no idea how I would attain either of those things. Writing my business plan forced me to evaluate what my business goals truly are and how I intend to get there. Additionally, it gave me an opportunity to define my intended contribution to the world via the sugary sweet. I do have some lofty ideas but, also, some of my ideas are very realistic and attainable. In the end, the business plan has provided milestones on this journey from which I can gauge my progress.

Of course, there are plenty of resources concerning crafting a business plan, so I will not rehash them here. However, I do want to stress that it is easier and less taxing on your already limited time and energy to finish your plan beforeĀ beginning your business. Trust me, you will thank yourself tremendously when it complete.

Here are some resources that I found very helpful when writing my plan:

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