Tag Archives: lifestyle

Soccer Mom Sommelier: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel

Soccer Mom Sommelier: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Zinfandel

This week I was on a mission to revisit types of grapes that I had at some point in my life decided were not to my taste.  One such wine on my dislike list is Zinfandel.  I’ve only ever had a few, and I can’t even remember which specific brands, but for some reason I’ve avoided Zinfandel for years.  It doesn’t really seem fair to write off an entire selection of wines from a few bad experiences, so that is how I found myself at the grocery store recently trying to decide which lucky bottle was going to redeem the entire Zinfandel name for me.

After about fifteen minutes (hubby, knowing my indecisiveness, usually leaves me alone in the wine aisle and continues shopping) had it narrowed down to two bottles.  One appeared serious and “respectable,” the other boasted a cheesy moniker on a faux-burnt label: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel.  It was so corny looking that it couldn’t be legit– so of course that’s the bottle I picked.  Priced at $12, it wouldn’t be a huge loss if it turned out to indeed be terrible.

An intense ruby, almost blood red color in the glass, it was actually a very attractive wine.  I took a whiff before I tasted any– it smelled pleasant enough.  First sip– “Oh!”  I think I actually said that out loud.  It was full of deep, complex flavors and I really liked it.  Subsequent sips (or gulps) only solidified my happy surprise.  There’s plenty of smooth, jammy fruit: ripe cherries, blackberries, and plums.  There is a dose of warm vanilla and cinnamon, balanced by a hint of the spicy burn of black pepper.  A little earthy leather rounds out the palate.

It is still a bit difficult for me to look past the kitschy bottle and name, and maybe it’s not what you’d give the boss as a meant-to-impress Christmas present.  However, it is a really tasty wine and I would absolutely buy it again to enjoy in my home or to take to the rare, but much-needed “Girls’ Night.”  And really, for $12 you can call it whatever you want as long as it’s good!

The one lifestyle change that allowed me to be a stay at home mom

The One Lifestyle Change That Allowed Me to be a Stay at Home Mom

As a member of mommy support groups, I frequently see the question posed: how can I afford to be a stay at home mom?  I’ve been a working mom, so I get it that some of us crave “adult time” and enjoy career accomplishments.  But I also know what a crappy feeling it is to leave your kids in the care of someone else all day.  Ultimately, I made the choice to leave the corporate world, and I wanted to share the one lifestyle change that made it possible.

This past November, I quit my job.  The plan was for me to enjoy the holidays with my family and start the search for a better employer in the new year.  I did that, and things went so wonderfully that hubby and I decided it would be best for our family (and my health) if I stayed home indefinitely.  There was just one problem– we were cutting our income in half.

While I was working, I always stressed about money.  Even with two solid paychecks, it never felt like enough.  How would we be able to make it on just my husband’s income?

Aside from monthly non-negotiables (housing, utilities, insurance), there was one expense that dwarfed them all. Once we seriously reevaluated our spending in this area, it freed up a huge chunk of our budget.  I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t our cable bill.

It was FOOD.  Hubby has always loved to cook, and did so on a regular basis.  However, we never planned out meals for the week.  As a result, we were forced to pop in to the grocery store on multiple occasions throughout the week for whatever he decided to fix on a whim, or pick up take-out when we were short on time.

It seems hard to believe that food could have such an impact on the budget, so to prove it, I’ll show you what we used to spend:

$240 – We made at least 3 grocery trips every week, spending about $80 each time.  Going to the grocery store without a list means you’re likely to forget items and end up having to return later.  Multiple visits make it easier to succumb to impulse buys, as you are tempted over and over.

$160 – We ordered take-out about four times a week.  Whether for lunch or dinner, with tax and tip it’s about $40 for our family.

$50 – While working, I spent about $10 per day on lunch.

$50 – Hubby also would order out food at work.

Add that up and you get $500 in one week!  That’s $2000 every month — insane!  This doesn’t even take into account any occasions where we would go out to eat in a restaurant.  It was money we spent without even thinking– we had to eat, right?

It was actually hubby’s idea to start weekly meal planning.  Amazingly, a commitment to this one concept was the key to a budget that worked.

On Sunday evenings, hubby and I sit down and talk about what we’d like to eat for dinner each night.  To make it easier, we’ve designated days such as “Salmon Mondays,” so all we have to decide is sauce and sides.  Other days, hubby might have a new recipe he wants to sample.  When the week’s menu is determined, we make the grocery list so we know exactly what needs to be bought.

Having everything figured out in advance allows us to only have to grocery shop one time.  We go in with a plan and don’t end up buying things that aren’t on our list.  Impulse buys are a thing of the past.  Since we’ve got a meal for each night of the week, we don’t need to order take-out.  Hubby cooks for an army, so there are always plenty of leftovers for lunch as well.

Here’s a look at our weekly food budget now:

$150-200: One grocery shopping trip for the ingredients needed for dinner every night of the week.

That’s it.  We’ve gone from spending $2000 a month on food to no more than $800.  It’s an incredible change and all it took was setting aside 30 minutes on Sunday night to create a meal plan.  If you think about all the time saved by consolidating grocery trips, it might actually be less time to meal plan than to try to go through the week without one.

Of course, we’ve made other adjustments to our lifestyle since I left my job, but none as significant as the meal plan.  Maybe it sounds overwhelming to cook every single night, but just look at how much money you can save (for us it was $1200 a month!)  An added bonus is that when you cook your own dinners, you know exactly what you’re getting– it’s healthier!

Even if you don’t aspire to be a stay at home mom, you could put an extra thousand dollars in the bank every month.  That’s a weekend vacation!  If you take a realistic look at what you’re spending on food, you might find that you don’t want to “eat up” a large portion your income any more.

Why I Am Proud to Say I Wear Mom Jeans

While browsing Pinterest a couple days ago, I came across a pin that blared “Gap and Old Navy Make MOM Jeans!!”  Intrigued, I clicked through to the original blog post.  The writer had apparently done lots of “research,” trying on numerous pairs of jeans from Gap and Old Navy, photographing herself wearing them, and comparing the results to those of her backside in various luxury denim labels.

Do your jeans qualify as "mom jeans?"

As I read the entire story, I found myself irritated, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.  It was a very popular pin.  Scores of women had commented about how funny it was.  The author professed that she was trying to free others “from the noose” of mom jeans.  No red-blooded young woman wants to be caught dead in the tapered monstrosities that our moms rocked in the 90s.  But is this a fair comparison?

At first I decided to simply let it go.  Who cares what some random chick in cyberspace thinks about fashion.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about that article.  I wear Gap jeans.  And I was damn proud to finally purchase a pair of “normal” jeans five months after the birth of my first baby.

I assumed that since I was slim before my pregnancy that I would have no trouble getting back into shape.  I heard breastfeeding just melted away the pounds.  Not for me.  An unplanned c-section meant I could hardly walk, let alone exercise for the first eight weeks postpartum.  Consequently, the weight clung to my midsection.  It was a very discouraging experience.

When I was finally cleared for physical activity, I hit it hard.  I worked out six days a week, graduating from walking and light yoga to more intense cardio and weight training.  One day my husband told me it was time to put away the maternity clothes– they were hanging off my butt.  We went to a store that I thought might have something to fit my more mature shape at an affordable price.  I still had some inches to lose, so I figured that I would get a few pairs of pants until I needed to buy smaller ones again a few months down the road.

When I tried on that first pair of size 27 (keep in mind I’m only 5’3″) Gap boot cut jeans and they *gasp* FIT, it was such a rewarding feeling– my hard work and dedication had paid off.  So what if they weren’t the most trendy jeans on the planet–they had a solid waistband and an actual button and to me that was a huge accomplishment.

So when I see some girl’s diatribe against jeans that millions of us moms wear happily, it ticks me off.  Has this girl had a baby?  Has she struggled to lose those stubborn pounds that made it impossible to wear ANY jeans without an elastic waistband? Doubtful, as she likely would have mentioned that in her post.

She recommends that we moms instead shop premium denim brands which offer more flattering cuts and details.  For two hundred dollars a pair they damn sure better make your butt look incredible!  But when I’m simply looking for a couple items to hold me over while I work on the last ten pounds, I’m not going to sink a car payment into each pair of jeans.

I’m not ashamed to shop at Gap, and if that means that I’m now officially dressed in “mom jeans,” so be it.  To wrap things up, I thought I would include some photographic evidence of my own:

momjeans

Guess what — it’s the same pair of jeans.  Gap Jeans.  Amazing what different camera angles and poses will do!  Like the old saying goes: it’s not about what you wear, it’s how you wear it.  “Mom jeans” doesn’t have to mean something bad.  My “mom jeans” are a badge of honor–I know what I went through to get into these jeans.  Many of us sacrificed so much to become a mother, and equally as much to reclaim our womanly figures.

This is the kind of message we should be sharing– one of positivity and support for our fellow ladies and mothers.  Sure, if you have the money and want to buy your True Religion or Seven for All Mankind Jeans there’s nothing wrong with that.  But there’s also nothing wrong with buying what you can afford and what you feel comfortable in.  Fashion is fun, but I vote that we try to care more about the people behind the clothes.

Tenuta Ca'Bolani Pinot Grigio

Soccer Mom Sommelier: 2013 Tenuta Ca’Bolani Pinot Grigio

I recently hosted a family game night at my house with my sister, brother, brother’s girlfriend, mom, and mom’s “friend” as Lilu likes to say while making exaggerated finger quotes.  I thought for sure that this would provide ample material for an upcoming blog post, but the evening was surprisingly uneventful.  However, mom and her “friend” are fans of the Soccer Mom Sommelier, so they brought a couple bottles of wine to try.  They instructed the wine salesman at a local specialty shop to recommend his favorite red and white under $15 a bottle.  Out of the two, the white was more to my liking, and a definite departure from my last two reviews, so I thought it would be a good one to share.

Last week’s Pinot Noir (MacMurray Estate Vineyards) and the week prior’s Chenin Blanc/Viognier (Pine Ridge) were both made in California, and as is common with American (especially Californian) wines, they were full of bold flavor.  Tonight’s pick, a 2013 bottling of Tenuta Ca’Bolani Pinot Grigio from Italy could not be more different, and provides a great lead-in for my first official Soccer Mom Sommelier “wine lesson”– Old World vs. New World.

Experienced wine drinkers can skip down to my tasting notes.  If you are a casual drinker (like I was before I decided to formally study wine) and your knowledge is just enough that you can tell red from white, then this is a great introduction to wine lingo.  You’ll be able to more easily select wines you like at the store AND impress your friends with your newfound “culture” at the next get-together 😉

When it comes to wines, it is easy to remember Old World and New World, as they are divided much like history.  Old World is Europe, including all the traditional wine countries (France, Italy, Spain, Germany).  The New World is North and South America and Australia, and basically anywhere else outside of Europe.

New World wines, like I touched upon at the beginning of this entry, will likely be BOLD and in-your-face.  Up and coming winemakers wanted to make sure that their offerings got attention when first entering the market.  New world wines are generally very fruit forward and many make liberal use of American oak which is more intense than European breeds– you can literally taste the wood!

Old World wines are known for being subdued and nuanced in their palate.  If there is oak used, it is usually aged and/or French barrels for a subtle effect.  Fruit is not as prominent, and there are often strong earthy or mineral notes.

So the gist of it is, if you like bold, fruity, and/or oaky wines, go for New World.  If you prefer subtle and earthy, choose a classic Old World style.  This Pinot Grigio from Italy is a great example of an Old World white.  When tasting (my whole family enthusiastically offered their input as well), it was difficult to pick out more than just a few specific fruits.  Though there was definitely pear and hints of lemon, what really stood out were it’s mineral characteristics: wet dirt, stone, gravel, etc (it tastes a whole lot better than it sounds…but if you try it you’ll know what I mean.)  The alcohol content is on the high end for white wine at 13% (bonus!), but it is very light on the mouth and would pair well with a wide variety of foods.  Or you can drink on its own, as we did during an intense game of Boggle!

And so concludes my first wine lesson– you’ve now learned one of the most basic ways of distinguishing wines, or you already knew that (heck you could be more knowledgeable than me) and simply found a new bottle to add to your list of ones to try.  Whatever the case, what I want to emphasize most is that learning is FUN–especially when there is wine involved!  Cheers!

Tom Kha soup

Thai Food Favorites at Home: Tom Kha Soup

I love Thai food.  Pad Thai noodles were just about the only thing I could eat during my first trimester (ok, they might not be the most daring dish, but admit it…they are delicious!!)  Fortunately, Lilu shares my love of Pad Thai and there is a great restaurant on the way home from the barn, so I have a good excuse to treat ourselves on occasion.  Another favorite is Tom Kha soup– creamy coconut milk steeped with herbs and finished with just the right zip of lime.  My darling husband, always up for a challenge (and an opportunity to prove his prowess in the kitchen), took it upon himself to recreate both of our favorite Thai meals at home.  I will share the Pad Thai recipe another day (it’s fantastic!) but today we had Tom Kha for dinner, so here you go!

What you need:

IMG_2597

  • 2 lbs chicken breast, cubed
  • 3 cans coconut milk
  • 1 small ginger root
  • 2-3 stalks of fresh lemongrass (find in produce with fresh herbs)
  • 3 limes
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 broccoli crowns
  • 2-3 bunches cilantro
  • 1 stalk green onion
  • 2TB sugar
  • 1TB fish sauce (find in international aisle)
  • 1 clove garlic (or garlic powder equivalent)

Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients…they pretty much all go into one pot, so it’s actually a very simple recipe!

To release the flavors, the ginger root and lemongrass will need to be “smashed.” Hubby uses a hammer (yes, a real hammer), but obviously a proper kitchen mallet will work just fine.

IMG_2599IMG_2600IMG_2603

In a large soup pot (or dutch oven, as pictured), combine: cilantro, ginger, lemongrass, onion, garlic, sugar, and coconut milk.  Bring to a simmer (medium heat), cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

IMG_2604

While the broth is cooking, sauté chicken until just underdone (will finish cooking once added to broth.)

IMG_2605

We love veggies, so we steam broccoli to add to the finished soup:

IMG_2606

After 15 minutes is up, strain the broth to remove all of the large chunks of herbs and vegetables.  If needed, use a spoon to squeeze out all the juice.

IMG_2614IMG_2615

Add juice from 3 limes and 1TB fish sauce to broth.

IMG_2617IMG_2619

Return broth to large pot and add sliced mushrooms.  Cook on low heat for 4-5 minutes until mushrooms are soft.

IMG_2620

Once mushrooms have softened, remove pot from heat.  Add chicken and broccoli, garnish with cilantro leaves and green onion. Enjoy the soup as an appetizer, or as is traditionally done, served over rice as a meal.  Yum!!

IMG_2622

Are you ready?

“Can you make an audition Monday at 10:15am?”  On Friday, much to my surprise, I got a call from my acting agent.  I figured they had forgotten about me after 2 years of being pregnant and then taking time to focus on the new baby.  I was planning to let them know as soon as I felt like I was “camera-ready” again, but being overly critical perhaps, I still had yet to do so.  Anyhow, I figured that now was as good a time as any to jump back in, so I readily agreed to the early morning appointment.  (Anything before noon is early when you’re trying to get out of the house with a baby– even if she’s not going!)

Since I knew it might take me a good while to get on the road, I resolved to have everything prepared the night before.  It’s a daily struggle (I get it honestly from my family) to be on time, but I’ve been doing very well these days with a concentrated effort.  Amazingly, I found my headshot folder immediately, despite not even touching it for longer than I cared to admit.  I printed up the audition notes and script to add to the folder and slipped it into my purse, which would be waiting for me on the loveseat nearest the door.  No way was I going to forget anything!  I mentally went over outfits in my head until I settled on the right “look” which would pop in front of the studio background– likely blue or green paint.

The audition, for a national commercial, was quite laid back– we were told as we signed in that it would mainly be improv– awesome!  We were each partnered with another actor–I did my best to make conversation beforehand so we would be comfortable together.  As comfortable as you can be after knowing a person for five minutes.  We were the second pair to go in, and it was definitely nice not to be stuck waiting around for our turn.  The director was friendly and did most of the prompting.  It was fun and I found myself easily conversing with my fellow actor, while making sure to look towards the camera at key moments.  For being out of the game for so long, I felt like things went just about as well as they possibly could.

I was lucky.  When I got home I began to realize just how UNprepared I really was!  In my inbox waiting was an email from the casting service alerting me that I still needed to upload a photo to my profile on their site.  I logged in and sheepishly put up my headshot– which has to be about eight years old!  (Completely unacceptable!  Adult performers should get new head shots every 3-5 years or sooner if your look changes substantially.)  While I was logged in, I took a quick review of my resume– yikes!  My last training workshop was in 2005!  It had been almost a decade since I had done any real work to improve my craft– again, totally unacceptable.  Even my address on file was the apartment I had moved out of four years prior.  Sadly I had the thought that if I was my agent, I would NOT send myself to any castings!

What had happened to the young actress, fresh out of college, who couldn’t get enough time in front of the camera?  Who signed up for at least two seminars a year, who read every book on the subject she could get her hands on?  Who got nervous with excitement just thinking about any upcoming projects?  Life had happened.  I threw myself into my day job– the job that paid the bills.  I dedicated myself fully to my kids and family.  Both are admirable causes, but in all this I had forgotten about ME and my passions.  I had let fall by the wayside something that I really enjoyed doing, and that potentially could be a source of income.  But just like anything else, an acting career requires investing to be successful– investing time for studying, training, and driving to auditions; investing money for quality and up-to-date head shots, classes, audition outfits, and for us lucky females our hair cut and color!  Just like any other business, if you don’t put anything in, you won’t see a return.

I have a lot of work to do, but instead of feeling down or discouraged (which if indulged, these negative emotions can lead people to give up altogether), I made a list of all the tasks I needed to accomplish in order to be a respectable actress, and someone the agency could call upon with confidence.  I prioritized what should be taken care of immediately (updating online profiles) and what could be done over the next couple months (new head shots, finding a good acting workshop).  To make myself accountable, I sent an email to my agent thanking her for submitting me today, letting her know I was ready to get serious again, and asking what casting services they use and need updating.

Sometimes as moms we get so caught up in the lives of those that we take care of, that we forget to take care of ourselves.  I’ve been both a working mom and a stay at home mom, and both are tiring and time consuming in their own ways.  Sometimes it feels that there really is no time left to do things that we like to do, just because we LIKE them.  Or sometimes we let the details slide, either out of exhaustion or complacency.

But success is in the details– so I made a commitment today to get back to work on these things that have been hanging over my head unfinished.  Loose ends are a drain on energy– so taking care of them will not only make you more productive, but happier as well.  And every mama deserves to be happy!  Even better, the definition of success is subjective– it could be finally organizing that closet that you can barely walk through, or writing a business plan so you can make your dreams reality.  The only thing standing in your way is yourself, so don’t be an obstacle– be your own best ally!

Monday is just about over, but the week is just getting started.  Make this week the one where you embrace a positive change in your life!

The Rodriguez Family Favorite: Light and Healthy Citrus Leek Salmon and Shrimp

I’ve been bugging Mateo to make this recipe for my blog since I started.  It’s incredibly simple (I think I could make it if I had to), healthy, and of course DELICIOUS!  I think this is the unanimous family favorite– Annabelle tried it for the first time last week and ate like I’ve never seen her eat before.  There are only seven ingredients and it takes less than 30 minutes to prep AND cook– perfect for weeknights when you’re in a hurry but don’t want to sacrifice nutrition and flavor.

Here’s what you need:

IMG_2509

  • 2 fresh salmon filets
  • 1 pound shrimp (peeled and de-veined)
  • 1 leek stalk (thoroughly rinsed)
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • Lemon
  • Mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine – can substitute regular white wine)
  • Chicken broth (could also use vegetable broth, garlic broth adds flavor)

Chop leeks into strips no more than 1/4″ inch wide.  (Stop when you’ve gotten to the part of the stalk that is completely white, or about 2 inches from the base.)  Cut tomatoes in half.

IMG_2510IMG_2512

Combine shrimp, leeks, and tomatoes in large saucepan on medium-low heat.

IMG_2514

Add 1/3 cup Mirin, zest of half a lemon, and 1/3 cup chicken broth.  Add salt & pepper to taste.  (If not using garlic-infused broth, you may want to add a pinch of chopped garlic.)

IMG_2515IMG_2516IMG_2518

Simmer for 10-12 minutes. If liquid begins to boil, reduce heat.

IMG_2520

Lightly salt and pepper salmon filets.  Place skin-side up in skillet that is coated in cooking oil.  (We use either olive or coconut oil.)

IMG_2521IMG_2523

Cook for 5-7 minutes on medium-low to medium heat, or until salmon is cooked halfway through:

IMG_2524

Flip salmon so skin side is facing down.  There should be a nice crust on the top.  Turn off heat and cover.  The salmon will steam to a perfect doneness.

IMG_2525IMG_2526

This dish is amazing enough to stand alone (for any low-carbers out there) but we enjoy it with pasta.  We love this brown rice vermicelli, which is very similar to angel hair (great if you are avoiding wheat and gluten):

IMG_2529

Cook in large sauté pan for 6-7 minutes with 2 cups of chicken (or vegetable) broth.  Break up the noodles so they will be a more manageable length and easier to eat.  The noodles will absorb the broth so there is no need to drain.  Super easy!

IMG_2528

The noodles and broth should finish cooking at about the same time.  Add juice of one lemon to the cooked broth.  Place salmon on top of noodles and finish with shrimp and broth.

IMG_2532IMG_2538

It’s sure to get a thumbs up from the whole family!

IMG_2545

Seven Ingredient Citrus Leek Salmon & Shrimp - Fresh, Healthy, Light, and Delicious!