TRAVEL: Saint Augustine

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Update: I meant to post this in July, guess that didn’t happen! Here it is now:

Hey guys!

I just got back from vacation. Even though multiple constraints made for a shorter and cheaper vacation this year, I still had a great time with my mom and sister in Saint Augustine, FL. I’ve been to Florida a lot (more than any other state) so it wasn’t exactly on the top of my list for vacation spots. A super tight budget meant flying was out so we were limited to places we could drive and still leave on a Saturday morning and be back on Wednesday night as my sister had class on Thursday. This also ruled out anywhere requiring a passport as if I’m going to pay to fly, I’m staying longer than 4 days.

So the winner was Saint Augustine. Why? Because it was within a day’s driving distance (Google says it’s 13.5 hours away, but my mom will tell you it’s 18), it has a beach, it has lots of old stuff to look at (what mom wanted), and it isn’t super pricey.

So… onto my reviews!

Things we did:

Self-guided walking tour of historic Saint Augustine:

Fun, but we should’ve been more organized and had an idea of what we wanted to do before we got there. We arrived at about 10 am on a Sunday and were starving, but nothing was open until 11…we could’ve planned a little better! We ended up eating overpriced paninis (which were good) at Hidalgo Cafe then wandering the shops for a little while. St. George street is really really touristy (big surprise) and the prices reflect this.

The marina and El Galeon:

When we drove over the Bridge of Lions into Saint Augstine, we were surprised to see a big old-fashioned ship in the marina…turns out it’s a replica of the Spanish ship El Galeon and it’s touring the East Coast and is in Saint Augustine until July 23rd. It costs $15 to tour, but we thought we might as well. Onboard they have a bunch of stuff about the history of Saint Augustine and you can tour three levels of the ship, cannons, and more. There’s even a movie on the bottom level, but it was hot down there so we didn’t watch it. It’s really neat, but slightly terrifying to imagine being out on the open sea in that thing. We were told it’s moving to New York next, so keep an eye out for it!

Castillo de San Marcos:

This was really cool, and only costs $7 to get in, your ticket is also good for 3 days so if you’re in town for awhile you can come back. Overall, we thought it was well worth it and the money goes to the National Parks for preserving the castillo. We toured around the rooms, the old city jail, and they held a cannon demonstration on the gun deck in full period costume.

Saint Augustine Beach:

Our hotel, Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort, was actually located in Saint Augustine Beach. The hotel was what we expected for the price range ($130/night) and had a great pool and then a gazebo and walkway to the beach. All the hotels are a bit off from the beach so there’s a nice large stretch of sand. The hotel had a chair/umbrella rental company located in the gazebo, and while we brought our own chairs we rented an umbrella for $15/day. The beach was very nice and clean and not overly crowded. The waves were small and the ocean was shallow for quite awhile, which was really nice and made the beach very family-friendly. There is a one-way road along the beach that you can drive on for a small fee. The road closes at 7:30pm. Just be careful to look for vehicles if you’re walking to the beach, I kept forgetting about the road, but luckily the speed limit is 10 mph and no one hit me!

Beachcomber Restaurant:

This is a beach-side restaurant located in Saint Augusine Beach at the end of A street. Their menu isn’t very diverse, but the food was great and it was the only restaurant we found located near the beach with outdoor seating. I got the mahi sandwich with dill sauce and loved it. It was big and only about $8! My plate came out with only a few fries and the server made sure to bring us a big basket of fries to make up for it. I would definitely go back here.

Mango Mangos Restaurant:

Located up the road from Beachcomber, their seating is indoors or a screened in area. They were really busy when we arrived and it was super loud in the resaturant, everything seemed to echo and it was hard to hear the server. The food was great, and there was a lot of it. The prices were typical for tourist town and the amount of food you got, but if you’re on a tight budget you might want to go somewhere else!

San Sebastian Winery:

Great tour and tasting, and it’s free! I’ve been tasting several places now, including Napa Valley and learned more at this place than I did anywhere else. You don’t actually get to see the grape vines or much about the process but they show you a video and you can see holding tanks and where they bottle (though they weren’t bottling when we were there). Then you get to taste 7-8 wines (more if you’re in a group and you share your glasses) and you can pick between two wines for each round. Make sure to request to taste the sparkling wine, as I thought it was the best! We ended up buying a few bottles. The tour guide was great and we all had a good time.

Georgie’s Diner:

Located just down the road from the winery is Georgie’s Diner. It looks like a typical old diner in a silver building, and we were excited to order a milkshake. No such luck though as we found out it is a Greek diner! I was thrilled, because I love Greek food. They have a wide range of Greek options and an all-day breakfast menu to choose from. I got the Greek Combo #2, my sister got chicken souvlaki and my mom got lamb souvlaki. Everything was delicious and the prices weren’t too bad!

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LIVE: $30 Shopping Cart Challenge

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Hello again everyone! Lately I’ve been seeing a few pins on pinterest about shopping cart challenges and sticking to a budget. I’ve seen people doing a $30 shopping cart challenge for a family of four. So, since I’m trying to save money anyway I can, and since I’m only one person, I decided if they can do it, so can I! I’m only one person, and I don’t eat any more than a normal person but I like to buy organic and have some brands I prefer over others. I also usually let myself have one splurge per trip, whether it’s something new in the organic section I want to try, or a pack of Oreos. In the past, I’ve usually tried not to go over $40/wk but never really stressed if I went over.

Another thing I do religiously is to use my credit card to pay for everything, even though I think of it more like a debit card since I pay it off every month. This is a huge no-no when budget grocery shopping because it does allow you to go over. If you take an envelope of cash and end up going $5 over at the register, you have to put something back. If you’re using a card, you just swipe anyway and maybe vow to spend less next week (which probably doesn’t happen). Since I have a card that gives me miles for purchases, I rarely use cash because it doesn’t give me miles. So I’m doing the challenge with a credit card, even though I’ll have to really be careful not to go over.

I did the challenge at my local Pay-Less Store (a Kroger Affiliate). Since I shop there a lot, I’ve got a general idea of what prices are. I also get their weekly sales in the mail so I know what’s on sale. They have a great 10/$10 promotion, which they always have, but you don’t have to buy 10 items to get the $1 price for each item. Some of the items in the promotions aren’t really good deals, but some are.

I also have the store loyalty card (all Krogers and affiliates have this), which is free to get and an absolute must if you’re shopping there (the prices listed are usually for card-members and a higher, less noticeable price is for non card-holders). You can also download e-coupons directly to your card and every Friday they give out a freebie coupon, but you only have a day to download it (but longer to actually use it). I’m not sure how long that will last, but I’m taking full advantage of it. This is great because I tend to leave paper coupons at home or entirely forget about them in my wallet! You can’t use an e-coupon with a paper coupon though, so that’s one minus if you’ve managed to find a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon. The card  also allows you to earn fuel points (1 point for every dollar you spend). Accumulate 100 in a month and you get $0.10 off gas! This moth you get double fuel points for shopping on weekends so I’m actually getting a discount this month. (Sorry for rambling on about the card, but it’s a key component for this shopping trip!)

My strategy was to make a list of things I needed and write down what I could spend on each item (only in dollars, I didn’t bother with cents), I counted it all and reached about $29 so I didn’t add anything else to the list. I then held the list in my hand throughout the store.

I also used a basket instead of a cart so it’d be harder to add unnecessary things. This was good in theory but I didn’t take into account the weight of the things I needed and I was afraid the handles on the basket would break before the end (and I even carried the milk instead of putting it in the basket).

Onto what I actually bought:

2 half gallons of 2% milk: $0.99 each (Weekly sale price made 2 half gallons cheaper than 1 gallon)Kroger brand frozen peas and carrots: $1.00 (10/$10)
Kroger shredded cheese: $2.18
Bluebonnet Butter (small tub): $1.50
1.42 lbs tomatoes on vine at 2.19/lb: $3.115 organic bananas: $1.18
1 extra large Hass avocado: $1.69
Kroger black beans: $0.69
Kroger Restaurant style tortilla chips: $1.00 (10/$10)
4-pack of large potatoes: $1.99
3-pack of romaine hearts: $1.99
Kroger large eggs: $1.98

Clear brand hair conditioner: FREE with e-coupon
Colgate 4.6 oz toothpaste: FREE with e-coupon
Kroger cotton swabs: $2.14

TOTAL: $22.57

Verdict: I got highly frustrated at my self check-out line for these reasons:
-The avocado sale sign said it was only $0.99, but was really $1.69
-I must’ve read the produce scale wrong for the tomatoes, thinking they’d only be about $2,  instead of $3.19
-The e-coupons I had took awhile to come off (I almost called the attendant over to take off the Clear conditioner as it was 5.99 without the coupon and I didn’t need it)
-Several items were over my pre-established limit, but since my list was pretty short and I will be using these items to complement items I already had, I decided to get them all anyway.

It turned out my frustrations and worrying were for nothing, as after I hit “pay” the magical number of $22.57 appeared, and since I had expected to be over budget, I was very surprised!

And some of you may have trouble thinking of menus with this, but there are lots of possibilities! (This takes into consideration things I already had like rice and tortillas, as well as what I bought)

-Fried rice (rice, frozen peas/carrots, eggs, sesame oil, garlic)
-Nachos Supreme (tortilla chips, seasoned black beans, tomatoes, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, avocado and anything else you have on hand or like)
-Egg, cheese and ham scramble or omelet with toast
-Salads (lettuce, tomato, cheese, dressing, whatever else you have or like)
-Banana and/or strawberry smoothies
-Black bean and cheese quesadilla or burrito
-Mashed potatoes and veggies
-Baked potato (with any number of toppings)
-Tostadas with a fried egg, mashed black beans, cheese and avocado
-Rice and beans
-Whatever else you can think of!

I’d say my first $30 challenge was a success, look for more challenges in the future 🙂

CREATE: Dresser to TV stand

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Hello! So….it seems I fail at keeping my blog updated. I have no excuses. I’m lazy and recently discovered the TV show Gossip Girl which may have taken over my life for a little bit. I also just moved to a new apartment and I’m still recovering/decorating/unpacking. Still, my only excuse is I’m lazy and I just haven’t been inspired lately to do much of anything….

On to the topic of this post. Awhile back, I saw something similar on pinterest and asked my mother to keep an eye out for cheap old dressers that I could turn into a TV stand. Little did I know this beauty was sitting in my parent’s garage. We’d tried to sell it, but potential buyers decided it was too small. It really is too small for clothes, unless you’re using it for an infant I guess! Lucky for me, that meant it’s still mine! It was purple and red (in high school my room was shades of purple, orange and red which I thought was bohemian…) Anyway, a good coat of primer and some lovely new paint colors brought it back to life!

It used to have two smaller drawers in the top shelf, but my handy-dandy father removed the tracks they were on and the wooden piece in the middle and fitted a white board (re-purposed from yet another childhood dresser) in the top to make a flat surface. He then cut some holes in the back for cords and my mom painted the rest of the inside the same color as the drawers. I wanted a space to put my cable box, internet modem, DVD player and such where they were out of the way and not cluttering up anywhere. I just switched cable/internet providers and turns out my new one has a much smaller box (on the left) and the internet modem has to stay upright so it’s still up beside the TV. The drawers work perfectly for storing DVDs and other odds and ends out of sight. As an extra bonus, all the cords are hidden away behind the dresser so I don’t have to look at them anymore.

I’m sorry to say I failed at picture-taking once again and have no before or during pictures to show you. If you want to try it yourself, go for it! It’s super simple (though I suppose some dressers might be more complicated than others!) The hardest part is fitting a board on the inside top shelf, so hopefully you’re handy like that or know someone who is!

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Eat: Tostadas

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The weather this weekend has been divine, so I’ve been spending all my time enjoying it. Due to this, you’re getting another super simple recipe to do with as you please! This recipe reminds me of my time in Costa Rica (except there they are called chalupas, completely different from chalupas at Taco Bell!) Fun fact: Taco Bell in CR serves “fiesta fries” which are just plain french fries. My camera is also dead (whoops!) so no photos today.

These are also super customizable and you can pretty much put anything you want on them!

Ingredient List

Small Corn tortillas (about 2 per adult) Olive Oil (to spray or brush on tortillas)
Black beans (I used canned)
Plain Greek Yogurt (or sour cream)
Cheese
Vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, onion, peppers, etc…)
Cilantro (optional)

For the beans, warm the canned beans (drained) in a small saucepan. Once warm, add a dollop of yogurt (or sour cream) and cilantro (plus any other spices you’d like) and mash them up. My beans weren’t completely drained so I didn’t need much yogurt, if it’s too thick you can add some water or yogurt if you want them creamier) You want them to still have beans chunks but not to be completely mashed. I used a fork and had to smash against the side of the pan to accomplish anything. You could also use a potato masher if you happen to have one.

VARIATION : Use canned refried beans (regular or black) and save yourself a few steps. Making you own doesn’t take very long though. You want either mashed or refried beans, whole beans will tumble right off your tostada.
Once the beans are done,  spray your tortillas with olive oil, and bake in the oven at about 400 degrees for about 5 minutes or until crispy and golden brown (be careful not to burn them!) It mayr take longer, just be sure to check on them every few minutes.

When your tortillas are done, spread some of your mashed beans on, sprinkle with cheese and add your desired toppings! It’s as easy as that.

TOPPING IDEAS

BREAKFAST TOSTADAS: Add crumbled bacon to the bean mix and top with a fried egg and desired veggies.

DINNER TOSTADAS: Add your choice of meat (chicken, beef, shredded pork) Serve with a side of rice and pile high with veggies. Add a teaspoon or so of caldo de tomate (tomato bouillon, found in the Mexican section of most stores) when you add the rice to the boiling water to give it that subtle red color and taste of rice at Mexican restaurants.

TOFU TOSTADAS: Make some tofu in a skillet with your favorite taco spices and add to the top.

DESSERT TOSTADAS: Use small flour tortillas, spray with oil and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and bake until warm and slightly golden (these won’t get as crunchy as corn tortillas and will burn so keep a close eye on them). Add sliced bananas, strawberries (any fruit really) and top with ice cream or frozen yogurt and your favorite toppings (whipped cream, chocolate syrup, caramel, sprinkles, etc) You’ll probably need to get this one with a fork instead of picking it up with your hands. You could also bake the tortillas into a bowl shape and use them as bowls.

 

EAT: Summer Salads

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The weather is finally starting to warm up…well at least we’ve had highs in the high 40s! I’ve been dying for warm weather and itching to just jump on a plane and get lost on a tropical island….since that isn’t going to happen I’m just going to keep dreaming and eating summery foods and pretending summer is already here. Hopefully it will be soon, but the foot of snow we got the last week of March may say differently.

For anyone who’s reading that’s not from Indiana (or surrounding states) the weather here has no rhyme or reason. Snow one day and 60 degrees and sunny the next. Someone posted a facebook status that said “Go home weather, you’re drunk.” which pretty much describes it perfectly.

Anyway, my current addiction is what I’ve dubbed a summer salad. I found these great frozen french green beans which cook up delicious in the skillet, chop up some tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, strawberries, or any fruit/vegetable I have on hand, throw some feta cheese (or shredded cheese if I’m out of feta), olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some S&P and chow down. Sometimes I add some tofu (or chicken or bacon if I’m not being a vegetarian for the month) It’s so simple I almost didn’t want to post it, but it’s so good.

It’s also great for lunch or dinner though I usually eat it for dinner so I don’t have to lug all the ingredients to work since we only have a mini fridge.

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Salad with arugula, spinach, tomatoes, strawberries, green beans, feta cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and crispy wonton strips on top (slice wonton wrappers with a pizza cutter and spray them with olive oil and bake until crispy)

 

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Salad with spinach, arugula, shredded cheese (fiesta blend), avocado, tomato, green beans, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, S&P

By the way the dishes these are in are what I call bowl plates because they’re about the size of a dinner plate, flat on the bottom, but the sides curl up like a bowl. They’re perfect for salads! I got these at Target, I’m fairly certain the were 2 for $1 or something close to that.

LIVE: The freebie game

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Everyone likes getting something for free, right? I’ve been in on the internet freebie craze for a few months now, and it’s slightly addicting. If all I have to do is “like” something on facebook and they’ll send me a free sample then I’m definitely going to do it. I like this much better than couponing, because I don’t have to print anything out, do any math, or remember to actually take the coupons to the store.

The best freebies, however, are full-size freebies. These are a bit harder to come by, but they’re definitely out there! Sometimes, there are even instant-win games you can play. One day I got a $20 gift card from Target and $10 in Live Nation Concert Cash within minutes of each other. The Target card came from a Trick-or-Treat app on Target’s facebook and the concert cash was courtesy of Twix.

Recently, I’ve received two full-size bottles of Eucerin lotion (from their Spin-to-win game on facebook), a full-size Olay moisturizer and Cover Girl mascara from Allure magazine, a full-size lip gloss from Smashbox Cosmetics, and a Spa-breeze razor from Venus, a beer chalice from Stella Artois, several magazine subscriptions,  as well as a packet of flower seeds, numerous shampoo/conditioner and laundry samples and coupons and a sample packet of Airborne products.

All this from checking a few websites for freebie alerts during my lunch break everyday! There are so many sites out there that do the legwork for you and all you have to do is click a link and enter your info. Granted, I’ve started getting more spam email since I started doing this, but you could always set up a new email account or use one that you don’t use very often. Sometimes, the freebies never come, but they usually just take several weeks (or months) to arrive. I’ve usually forgotten what’s supposed to be coming by the time it gets here, so checking my mail is like an instant-win game everyday 🙂 When you sign up you’ll usually get a message saying when it should come. It’s usually at least 6 weeks.

Like I said, there are a ton of freebie sites out there! Now that I’ve liked a bazillion companies on facebook, I usually find good freebies from random facebook posts of the company. Check sites multiple times a day for the best results. Freebies are usually time sensitive or have limits and are sometimes announced only minutes before they start. For example: they will be giving away a freebie to the first 1000 people who enter at 2pm EST or to the first 10,000 people but don’t disclose when the “contest” opens. Everyone has their own favorite sites, but here are a few I’ve used and like:

icravefreebies.com – updated multiple times a day, just posts the freebie with no commetary

heyitsfree.net – not updated as often, but more entertaining as he posts commentary and tips on how to get the freebies sometime.

Try searching “Freebies” or “Free Samples” in your favorite search engine to find more!

Now, you should also be a bit wary of what sites you’re using. If it’s asking for a lot of information and you’re not comfortable giving it out, then don’t. If it seems like it’s not legit, go somewhere else. Some will only ask for an email and will email you coupons. For others, you’ll need to provide your actual address as they’ll be mailing it to you. Some people have told me they put a fake address, which defeats the purpose as someone else ends up with the freebie and not you. Most will ask for your birthday as well, and there’s nothing saying you have to enter your actual birthday if that makes you uncomfortable (just make sure to put you’re over 18!)

I only sign up for things I actually want and the smaller sample sizes I either use when I travel, or give to my sister who makes up care packages to keep in her car to hand out to the homeless.

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Top photo: Eucerin Intensive Repair Hand Cream, Eucerin Professional Repair Body Lotion, Olay Moisturizer, Curel Ultra Healing Balm, Cover Girl Last Blast Fusion Mascara.

Bottom Photo: Venus Spa Breeze Razor, Downey Unstoppables, Tide Pods original, Downey Infusions Fabric Softener, Shout Color Catcher, Tide Pods (boost vivid), Woolite Extra Dark Care sample, Crest 3D White Toothpaste, Crest 3D white strips

Have you gotten any good freebies?

EAT: What happens when you mix shepard’s pie and pot pie…

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I decided I wanted to make a pot pie this weekend and I had some tofu I needed to use up so I decided to try a tofu pot pie. I’d also seen a recipe for a vegetable version of a shepard’s pie that I also wanted to try. Since they were similar and I didn’t want to make both I decided to go for a pot pie filling with mashed potatoes on top with a crust over it all.

I ended up adapting a Light Chicken Potpie recipe I found on The Food Network, only making it vegetarian. I made the crust the same, except I used 1/2 cup of regular all-purpose flour and a 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour. Then I made a lot of changes to the filling and ended up with this:

FILLING
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced (left out because I forgot to get an onion)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/3 cup 2% milk
3 stalks celery, sliced (I left this out as I also forgot celery)
about 7 oz extra-firm tofu
1/2 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
2 cups frozen peas and carrots (I got the mixed bag)
1/2 can of corn
Italian seasoning (oregano and thyme)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
MASHED POTATOES
3 russet potatoes (though 4 would probably have been better)
2% milk
Butter
sour cream
First, start the crust as it needs to chill. I whipped this up in no time thanks to my food processor and stuck it in the fridge to chill.
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I peeled and cut up my potatoes (using my handy dandy potato peeler my mother got me for Christmas that Id forgotten about) and put them in a pot to boil while I worked on the filling.
Then I cooked up the tofu in olive oil and added some italian seasoning and onion powder for flavor. Then I added the flour (to the same pot as the tofu) and the broth. Then I worried the tofu would get mushy so I took most of it out. I followed the original recipe’s intructions for adding the milk and then removed from the heat and added the yogurt and frozen peas and carrots. Then I put the tofu back in.
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My potatoes were done so I drained them and used a hand-mixer in the same pot to whip them up. I then threw in some milk, butter and sour cream but went a little overboard. I think stiffer potatoes would have worked better for this recipe.
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Once it was all ready I poured the filling in a dish, smeared the potatoes on top and covered it with the crust and popped it in the oven. 25 minutes later it was ready.
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Now, it was impossible to take a good picture of this. Maybe I didn’t let my filling thicken long enough or maybe I should have added more vegetables or done some more thinking before making this, but my filling was pretty much soup even though the original recipe called for double the amount of broth. As my crust was only on top, there was nothing to hold it together at the bottom. The potatoes also mostly sank into the filling and blended in. You could taste them, but you couldn’t really see them. I put it on a plate and it proceeded to take over the entire plate.
Overall verdict is the taste was good, but this definitely isn’t something to make to impress anyone as it’s super messy. I’m not sure it was worth all the time in the kitchen and all the mess it made. Next time, I think I’ll stick to making one thing instead of trying to make two thing in one 🙂 I did like the crust recipe though!