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At the beginning of the year I talked about the words that I want to define 2014 in my life. Those words, discipline and simplicity, have been on my mind a lot over the past month. I’ve found countless moments when I was in need of more discipline or simplicity in my day-to-day life.

Today I’m kicking off a series of posts over the next couple months focusing on simplifying daily life. Since I don’t have it all figured out (who does?) I’m not going to claim to be an expert in any one subject. I hope this series can be more of a sharing of ideas rather than a one-sided conversation. So, if you have things to add, please don’t hesitate!

Up First: Simplified Spending 

For a while now, Joe and I have been wanting to simplify our spending. We’ve always been responsible spenders in the sense that we we paid off our student loans quickly, don’t have any credit card debt, aren’t lavish spenders, etc. But we’ve both felt strongly that our spending could be more disciplined. When you don’t have kids and don’t have debt, it’s easy to get lazy about tracking your purchases. However, I didn’t feel like we were establishing habits that were going to serve us well in the long run, when we do have kids and have less disposable income. Also, my heart was increasingly convicted about where our money could go, and the good it could do, if we didn’t spend it all on ourselves.

1. Track Your Finances
Our first step was to start tracking our spending to understand areas where we could use more discipline and areas where we didn’t spend as much as we thought. We’ve been using Mint.com for over a year, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the year that we got serious about tracking spending in various categories and spending our money accordingly. Tracking our spending and evaluating our budget was insightful because it allowed us to see where we were spending too much. My greatest weakness in our budget is spending money at the grocery store. Joe’s weakness comes in the form of trips to Home Depot and beers out with the guys, small purchases that add up quickly.

2. Build in Incentives 
Since I’m a big-picture thinker, it helped me to have an incentive to save more money. Instead of just saving money for the sake of saving money, I had to see the bigger picture. We now have a jar in our house where we store extra cash that we’ve saved: money that we’ve made from selling clothes we don’t wear, birthday and Christmas money from family and any extra money that we didn’t spend in our respective budget categories. This isn’t something Joe finds helpful or important, probably because he works in commodities and deals with abstract finances every day, but it’s very helpful for me since I’m highly visual. This strategy also helps when I’m tempted to throw in that cute (cheap) top into my cart or buy that coffee at work when I could easily make coffee at home. Every dollar I don’t spend gets to go into a jar that pays for something much bigger and more gratifying. Imagine how many fun trips you could go on if you just stopped buying cheap clothes you don’t need! Which brings me to my third strategy…

3. Buy Quality 
I’ve been known to get caught up in the quantity vs. quality trap that seems to lurk around every corner. What helped me was to look back in my closet and take inventory of what pieces are my favorites and what has been in my closet the longest. I have a dress and a skirt that I bought three years ago which were both pretty expensive. I remember having sticker shock about buying those items, but they are some of the longest lasting and most worn items in my closet. On the other hand, I only have 1 dress from Target that has lasted more than a year.

4. Take Advantage of Rewards
Credit cards with rewards are a slippery slope, but if you use them responsibly I’ve found they can be a great savings tool. I happen to shop at Banana Republic a lot because it fits my body and suits my style. I’ve had a  Banana Republic credit card for a long time and have reaped a lot of rewards from it, which helps to keep our clothing spending in check. Joe’s always amazed at how I can use coupons and rewards dollars to get quality items for very little money. To get the rewards, we use my Banana Republic card on purchases we would normally make, especially bigger purchases. Just be sure you get a card that allows you to use it as you would any regular credit card, not just a store credit card.

5. Take an Emotions Inventory
Perhaps I should have started with this point, because it’s the most important, but I’ll finish with it because it’s incredibly helpful for me. When I’m tempted to spend, I’ve been making every effort to take an inventory of my soul and my emotions. Examining why I want to purchase an item or go shopping Is it because I need new dress pants for work because my current pair is worn out? Or because I feel ugly and want to boost my confidence? Those things are totally different, and it’s important for me to differentiate between the two. It also helps to curb unnecessary spending.

How do you manage finances and focus on simplicity in your spending? 

Madison

ChocolateChipCookieForTwo_1

Happy Monday, friends! I’m so excited that February is finally here. In my mind, January is always a bit of a dull month where spring feels forever away and the post-holiday blues have set in. But February brings the Super Bowl and the Olympics and Valentine’s Day and spring is just close enough that there is a light at the end of the winter tunnel.

Although I’ve never been much for the pressure associated with Valentine’s Day (the gifts! and flowers! and finding the perfect restaurant!) I do enjoy the fact that we have an entire day devoted to showing friends and family how much we love and care for them. It’s pretty great, right? Plus, Valentine’s Day is all about chocolate, and that’s something I wholeheartedly support.

ChocolateChipCookieForTwo_2

I love baking but having a full batch of cookies or an entire cake in the house with just two people to eat said cookies or cake is a little bit dangerous. My willpower only lasts so long and eventually I have to cave. My friend, Christina, is my hero because she solves this problem every day with her website Dessert For Two. She scales down desserts to serve two people, meaning fewer leftovers and less temptation to eat, say, a dozen cookies.

I took a cue from Christina for this year’s Valentine’s Day and made a small deep-dish cookie cake. It’s certainly not health food by any means, but it is gluten-free and grain-free thanks to the use of almond meal. The resulting cookie cake is gooey, rich and incredibly tasty. I can’t even begin to tell you about the deliciousness that is this cookie cake. If you’re looking to cut back on the sugar in this recipe, I have also had success swapping out Truvia baking blend for the brown sugar in this recipe. When doing so, use 2 teaspoons of the baking blend in place of the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.

Grain-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake for Two
 
Prep time

Cook time

Total time

 

Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 2

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 egg yolk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • ¼ cup dark chocolate morsels

Directions
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 6-ounce ramekin with cooking spray. Set aside
  2. In small bowl, stir together the butter, sugar and egg yolk until well combined and smooth. Stir in the vanilla, baking soda and salt until well combined. Stir in the almond meal until just combined, followed by the dark chocolate morsels.
  3. Spoon mixture into ramekin. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown and center is still slightly soft. Cool 10 minutes. Enjoy warm!

FlyJoy_Box

I feel like it’s been forever since I did a giveaway on Espresso and Cream! Maybe it’s because it has been forever. I’ve been trying to cut back on the giveaways and focus on only promoting products I really love and am passionate about, meaning fewer giveaways. But! When I do have a product I’m excited about, I have to let you in on it.

When I was home over the holidays, I had the opportunity to sample my cousin’s new nutrition bars. Branded under the company name Fly Joy, the bars are made with a bunch of good-for-you ingredients like quinoa, oats, flax and chia seeds. And for those eating a restricted diet, they are also gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free.

I tasted all three flavors of the bars (and got a bunch to take home with me to pass along to friends, family and co-workers) and was blown away by the taste and texture. I’m not joking when I say that they’re amazing. Joe and I both agreed that our favorite flavor is the Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt. Seriously?! So good. They also have Coconut-Almond and Espresso Dark Chocolate flavors.

So, seeing as that I love these bars and want you to be able to try them, too, I’m giving away a box of the flavor of your choice to one lucky reader. There are four different ways to enter to win. See below for the details! And if you don’t happen to win, you can purchase a case for yourself on Amazon.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!
Madison

Pippa_Resting_1

Well, friends, we’ve had Miss Pippa for a little over a month and a half, so I figured it was high time to put a post together on thoughts about getting a second dog. This was the first puppy Joe and I have trained (we got Nutmeg from my parents as a perfectly behaved 3-year-old dog) so we were a little nervous to say the least. The fact that both of us have full-time jobs that require us to be gone much of the day added another layer of complexity.

Going into this experience I anticipated puppy training to be a lot of work, and it was, but at the same time, it was much easier than I thought. We got Pippa from a responsible and reputable breeder who happened to live close to our house and only breeds Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. We got plenty of time to meet and interact with Pippa prior to taking her home with us at 12 weeks and had time to observe her with her litter mates before picking which puppy we wanted to be a part of our family.

Puppy_Bath_1{Little Miss Pippa getting her first bath at our house. Ha!}

We fell in love with Pippa’s calm demeanor and thoughtful personality right away. You could tell from the beginning that she was a thoughtful puppy, always pausing to think about things before acting. It’s proven to be an asset for us, since she was easy to potty train, bell train and learn commands like sit and down. However, it’s also proven difficult because she is smart enough to willfully disobey us or use things to her advantage.

A few things we did to get her off to a good start with training and obedience:

1. Potty Training: We focused on potty training first and foremost for obvious reasons. We made a point to always let Pippa out of the same door for consistency, and since it was snowy, Joe shoveled an area that looks like an arena in our yard for her to go potty in every time. The first week or two we really had to watch her and catch her before she went potty on the floor. As she got a few weeks older, she started to go to the door to tell us she had to go potty. The first week we were waking up in the middle of the night to let her go to the bathroom, but after about a week she was sleeping straight through the night. Thank goodness!

2. Bell Training: This is something we added into the mix a couple weeks ago. As Pippa got a little older, we felt comfortable letting her roam the house a little more. However, we started to notice that she had a few accidents right next to the door. She was sitting at the door, trying to tell us she had to go out, and we didn’t see her, which would lead to the accidents. Now that we have a little bell at nose height next to the door (secured with a command hook) she can tell us she needs to go out. It’s fantastic! However, I’ve found her using it to her advantage a lot lately. She will go ring the bell every time she wants to play outside. We haven’t figured out a solution to that problem yet.

PIppa_LivingroomTOur_13. Crate Training: We implemented the crate training from the start and I’m so happy we did! The first couple weeks were rough since Pippa didn’t want to spend the whole night in her crate and would whine when we put her in there for any extended period of time. But seeing as that we work, there really was not other solution during the day and at night it was critical to all of us getting a good night of sleep. We started to keep her crate in the living room during the day (near Nutmeg) so she could see what was going on and even left her crate out in the living room with the door open when we were home so she could get familiar and comfortable with her crate. Giving her treats and even feeding your puppy in their crate for a while are all good ways to make them love their crate, and at night we cover her crate with a light blanket to signal it’s “bed time.”

4. Obedience Class: We’ve been going to puppy obedience classes with Pippa once a week for the last few weeks. It’s a four week program and a great way to socialize your dog and learn how to train them and reinforce positive behavior while curbing any behavior you don’t like. Right now Pippa does sit very well and down pretty well. She is still learning “no jumping” and is getting better with “no biting” but it’s still a work in progress.

5. During the Day: We were SO blessed to find someone in the area who is letting Pippa out during the day when we are at work. Seriously, I don’t know what we would do without her. We connected through a mutual friend and it worked out for her to come during the weekdays to let Pippa out to go potty and play with her for 10 to 15 minutes over lunchtime. I tried running home every day for about 1 week before I realized it was totally not going to work to do this long term, especially with the winter weather, snow and meeting schedules. Pippa_3
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how Nutmeg is doing, and the short answer is that she is adjusting super well! I was so nervous she was going to hate Pippa or never adjust to being in a two dog family. The first few weeks she just avoided Pippa all together, but Pippa won her over, like she wins everyone over, and now Nutmeg is good buds with Pipp. A few weeks ago they even started playing together. I never thought I would see the day! That said, Nutmeg isn’t afraid to let Pippa know when she has had her fill of puppy love (mainly Pippa chewing on Nutmeg’s ears) and needs her space.

Whew! What a long post. I wanted to get it all written down before Pippa is no longer a puppy and I forget what worked and what didn’t work. It’s been so much fun having Pippa around. Two dogs is certainly more work and sometimes I call us the “Hofmeyer Circus” but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Madison

FlourlessChocolateCake_1

Maybe you’re already thinking about Valentine’s Day? Maybe, if you’re like me, you think Valentine’s Day could be done a little better. I like Valentine’s Day, but I really don’t like the chiche roses and pressure to do something grand or give the perfect gift. A couple years back, Joe and I agree to never go out to eat on Valentine’s Day. We usually go out to eat a couple weeks before or a week after the actual day, avoiding the crowds and the craziness and the fixed menus.

This year, with the incredibly cold weather we’ve been having, I think my idea Valentine’s Day date goes something like this: watch a movie in our pajamas, drink red wine, eat this Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake. It’s pretty simple, really.

I don’t have a clue why it took me so long to make a flourless chocolate cake, but I’m a little embarrassed. I think I’ve always associated flourless chocolate cake with restaurant menus and sophistication and difficulty. In reality, it’s a no-brainer! I frequently find myself out of flour, but I almost always have cocoa powder and some semi-sweet chocolate and eggs, meaning I’m never more than a few ingredients away from a delicious, easy and impressive cake.

FlourlessChocolateCake_3
If you’re like me and have been putting off making one of these cakes, delay no more! Grab some high-quality chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar and eggs and get to baking something sweet for your sweetheart. And don’t feel the need to wait for Valentine’s Day. This cake is easy enough to make even on a weeknight, but I can’t guarantee it will last longer than a day.

FlourlessChocolateCake_1

Flourless Chocolate Cake for Two
Adapted from Epicurious.com

Ingredients
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon high quality vanilla
1/2 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s brand unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder)

Directions
Heat oven to 375°F. Grease 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment. Set aside.

In small saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate and butter, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in the sugar until well combined. Add eggs, whisking after each addition. Stir in the vanilla and cocoa powder until just combined.

Transfer batter into cake pan and bake 22 to 25 minutes or until edges have set and formed a crust. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Invert onto plate or platter. Cut into wedges to serve.

Happy Baking!
Madison

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