Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Grocery Haul


Here are the items I purchased at my local grocery store, Giant, on Sunday:


Back row, from left to right:
Pillsbury Cranberry Muffin Mix*
Barilla Penne*
Crinkle Cut Fries**
Barilla Penne*
Keebler Toasteds in Harvest Wheat*
Marva Maid 2% Reduced Fat Milk
Middle row, from left to right:
Kalamata Olives (from deli's olive bar)
Red Bell Pepper*
Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar Cheese**
Grape Tomatoes**
Front row, from left to right:
Spring Mix Salad***
Red Seedless Grapes****
Authentic French Style (Wheat) Baguette**

* on sale
** store brand
*** on sale and store brand
**** on sale and store coupon

I spent $30.16 on these 13 items. This is an average weekly Giant bill for me. As I have noted, I do either try to pick things up on sale or select the cheaper store brand, sometimes even both. Doing my homework by viewing the circular online while making my shopping list helps me stick to a budget. I also earned $0.25 by simply submitting my grocery receipt on the cash back app ibotta.

In addition, I shop at Target at least once a week. As far as food goes, I tend to buy more expensive food there, such as a package of pork chops, a frozen Bertolli pasta meal, and the Betty Crocker brownie mix with the included chocolate syrup pouch.

This is a fairly average grocery haul at Giant. Muffin mix and milk, pasta, crackers, red bell pepper, cheddar, tomatoes, salad and bread are staples for me. However, I had to sacrifice buying a package of meat or more vegetables such as zucchini for my pasta specialty in order to afford a few things that were out of the ordinary. Since I bought Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips with a good Cartwheel discount at Target Friday evening, I picked up crinkle cut fries to go with it. Plus, it's nice to have a bag of fries or tator tots in the freezer. In addition to using some of my aforementioned staples and many other items I have at home, I intend to assemble antipasti with the olives and grapes and then serve it when I entertain this week. The grapes were 98 cents a pound with a coupon in the circular and a $25 purchase. Even though I am used to spending around this amount, I wanted to be sure of it. So, with adding an item to my basket, I scribbled my new estimated total on my shopping list.

Since I didn't buy as many main course items as usual this time, I will use what I have at home this week. After a day trip to Philadelphia, wine shopping, and wining and dining out last week, I simply don't need to go over budget this week. In addition to those prepared chicken tenders, pasta, salad, and even antipasti as dinner, I have other main course options in the freezer including: two large chicken breasts, six pork chops, and a pepperoni pizza. Four bags of frozen vegetables in my freezer, two jars of tomato sauce in my cabinet, and nine rather small gold potatoes on top of my refrigerator will also help round out a meal. And don't worry, I have enough chocolate in stock until Easter. Since a bit of the budget went towards entertaining this week, this is my opportunity to shop my kitchen for free. Jennifer of the blog The Daily Connoisseur recently talked about shopping your kitchen here. I just didn't happen to draw inspiration from her blog post and video this particular time because it is something I already do as needed. Plus, I don't even need to use my own food on occasion this week. After going out to lunch (burgers, fries and a coke!) with my mom on Monday, I received two meals worth of her leftover turkey and mashed potatoes before she dropped me off at my place.



Remember, I am doing a Q&A soon! Have a question? Leave a comment on this blog post or on any of my blog's social media. I will answer them in April.



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Wine & Spirits Shopping


My friend Elizabeth and I went wine shopping and out to dinner Saturday night. So much fun! Again, we patronized Total Wine, an amazing warehouse selling wine, beer, spirits and accessories. I enjoy reading the notes in a wine. Unlike my first and second visits, where I spent around $73 and $87 respectively, I wasn't exactly planning and budgeting for this visit months in advance. In fact, my friend suggested the outing Thursday evening, just a couple of days before. So, I didn't spend nearly as much on this third visit of mine. I intended to purchase two bottles of my favorite wine, Banfi Chianti Classico and a new bottle of tequila for margaritas in the summertime and that's exactly what I bought. (You may read what I think about my signature red wine here.) I spent $52.83. (Both this amount and what I spent on dinner came out of my checking account.) Counting a $3 cash back offer, 3 bottles for about $50 is quite the deal! I did well.


I conducted some research on a good tequila for margaritas online. I already knew that silver tequila was traditional. First, I googled something like "tequila for margarita" and looked at a list from the top search result, an article on the website VinePair. One line read, "El Jimador Reposado BEST ON A BUDGET." This piqued my interest because it was recommended for my intended purpose, it was reposado which means "rested" and I tend to enjoy aged wine and rum, and it was a budget-friendly option. I clicked on the article and liked the description. Next, I went to my cash back app on my phone ibotta. I spotted a deal for this brand and this specific type was included. There were only a few brands of tequila with an offer. I promptly unlocked that deal for $3. Then, I went to the Total Wine website and searched for it. I approved of both the $19.49 price and the description that it "brings out the flavor of Mexico." I love travel and places, so I eat that sort of thing up! Plus, the reviews on the Total Wine website were good. After that, I also googled "El Jimador Reposado" and read some of the reviews. The high ratings were consistent. This was a cheap yet solidly good tequila that is a bit better mixed in a cocktail rather than straight in a shot. Many bottles of the Reposado variety were missing on the shelf. I look forward to trying it in a blood orange margarita!

It will be nice to have a bottle of my favorite wine around for my April birthday.

If you haven't already, find out the Italian chain restaurant we chose for dinner by viewing my blog's Instagram account. Please follow me @theitaliagal. I post extras in between ones noting a new blog post.

I have a blog post on another haul already scheduled for Tuesday. Check back for a grocery haul. 

I am aware that I must catch up on so many other topics. I am trying. I thank you for your patience.



Friday, March 24, 2017

Call for Questions


I would like to do another Q & A on the blog. Check out my first one here. I will answer your questions again, so please ask me if you would like to know something. This is not limited to any specific topic. I will be collecting questions in the comments section of this blog post as well as my blog's Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest board. I plan to publish the Q & A post on either Tuesday, April 4th or Friday, April 7th. I look forward to reading each inquiry that comes in! Plus, I would love to do this for my lovely readers. I appreciate you and am so grateful that you read my blog.

Have a wonderful weekend!



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Travel Tuesday: My Day Trip to Philadelphia

I took a trip to Philadelphia for the day yesterday and had such a good time! It was my first time I visited in a year and many things have changed. Seriously, so much was under construction. A couple of new things punctuated my rounds of my old favorites.


It was a sunny and the high for the day was about 52 degrees F in the city. I took an aisle seat after I boarded the train, but then hopped over to a window seat at the first stop. Even though I have so much of my winter reading list to go through, I downloaded a couple of books that will be on my spring list onto my Kindle before the trip. Both books were written by amazing bloggers I follow. I enjoyed reading a bit of Thirty Slim Days: Create your slender and healthy life in a fun and enjoyable way by Fiona Ferris (of the blog How to be Chic) and The Life I Imagined: My Personal Renaissance in Florence, Italy by Karen L. Mills (of the blog An American in Italy) on the ride.

I arrived at 30th Street Station and then crossed the street and headed downstairs to the subway in order to travel downtown, a neighborhood called Center City. I bought a paper subway ticket on a touch-screen kiosk rather than a token machine I've been used to. Unfortunately, the paper ticket didn't scan through the turnstile well at all.

I headed for my favorite shopping district first, Chestnut and Walnut Streets. Walking up Chestnut, my first stop was Sephora. Even though I am not too low at the moment, I bought my signature lipstick, Dolce Vita by NARS, nonetheless.

Next, I wanted to try this new Italian cafe on the same block, Gran Caffe L'Aquila. I had walked past it before and since L'Aquila is the capital of the odd Italian region I studied abroad in, vowed to try it on my next visit. In some travel research, I checked them out online and was anticipating my visit. Yesterday, when I walked up to the cashier, she greeted me with a buon giorno. I love that. I ordered a cappuccino and chocolate croissant, taking a seat at the white marble-topped counter to savor. The coffee and pastry were truly delicious. They served the coffee with a small glass of water which is routine in Italy. I also loved seeing the products around the bar area, items like chocolates and drinks that I only tend to see in Italy as well. I instagrammed my (second!) breakfast, hopefully sharing just how happy I was with my followers.



After the cafe, I crossed the street and wandered around a little mall. I browsed Victoria's Secret and my favorite jewelry store Fire & Ice. At each of their locations I come across, I gaze at a stunningly beautiful bracelet of dark pink rubies each cut in a pear shape. I've been stalking it for years now. I have a ruby pendant on a necklace and ruby stud earrings. One day, I will make the lovely bracelet mine too. Maybe even for my birthday next month! Back out in the sunshine, I strolled to my favorite little accessories shop, Tselaine. It was fun to browse, but their selection is more quirky than classic, so I happened to leave empty-handed. I walked down Walnut, and then up past the central City Hall. Again, I browsed Macy's beautiful location for silver bangles, but didn't find what I was looking for. Walking further down Market Street, I also enjoyed browsing the home department at Marshalls but didn't have to have anything. Even though I lived in Philadelphia, I have never been there. I did quickly walk through the similar discount department store Ross, but didn't find the housewares section there, so I left. The mall that it's in is under construction, so maybe that had something to do with it...

I turned around and stopped at one of my favorite places in the city, a large indoor market call the Reading Terminal Market. My first stop was Termini Bros., but unfortunately, they were out of cranberry pistachio biscotti. I decided against picking up a different kind of biscotti. It is easy for me to spend money, but on a budget, it's difficult to spend a lot or on things I haven't been obsessed with. I contemplated going to their South Philly location. (I didn't even look locations up on my phone, but in writing this post, I discovered that they also had a stand at the central Comcast Center.) I turned around and picked up a small mixed bag of 1/4 pound of dark chocolate covered vanilla and chocolate butter creams from the quirky Mueller Chocolate Co. They are good, but not my favorite. I wandered through the market, taking everything in. I tend to take a trip to Philadelphia on either a Sunday or Monday (which are my days off from work). Even though it was lunchtime and busy, it wasn't slammed busy on this particular Monday, with everyone trying not to bump into each other like it is on a weekend day. It was nice. On the way out, I stopped by The Famous 4th Street Cookie Company. I ordered 1/4 pound of chocolate chip cookies (which is two cookies) as usual, but the gentleman behind the counter politely informed me that they sell them by the number of cookies now, another change I encountered. I ordered two cookies and he teased me about two dozen.

Tulips and Hyacinths (and Poppies?) at the Reading Terminal Market.

The vibrant color of the ranunculus caught my eye.

Then, I found myself strolling up Chestnut Street again. Not particularly interested in clothing shopping that day and not having started on my spring capsule wardrobe yet, I stopped in H&M on a whim. Why not? It's a cheap store and I could simply browse. Well, I found a sheer black blouse with a pleated front and short flutter sleeves discounted from $24.99 to $10 as well as two short sleeve tees priced at either $5.99 each or 2 for $10. One tee was a black scoop neck and the other was a dark gray v-neck. $20 for three tops, one fancy and two basics, was such a good deal. Plus, in Pennsylvania, there isn't any sales tax on clothing.

I also patronized the new Nordstrom Rack location, selecting round one carat size cubic zirconia stud earrings. Usually, I buy a new pair once a year on or around my birthday and then wear my signature earrings more than all of my other earrings combined. I'll be sparkly for my birthday this year. I kinda like picking up a pair of earrings as my souvenir on a trip.

Signature lipstick and earrings
picked up in Philadelphia.

I quickly browsed a thrift shop called 2nd Time Around that sells clothing and accessories. I wanted to save an Italian food shop called Di Bruno Bros. for last because I was interested in picking up some cheese, charcuterie, and bread for antipasti. Since it is an expensive store, I had to limit myself. They love their cheese here, so I knew that I had to select one and I picked parmigiano reggiano. For salami, I selected spicy soppressata and prosciutto classico. I tasted the prosciutto with my cheese, crackers and red wine ritual after work this evening and its robust flavor actually made me pause. I also picked up a demi baguette. I look forward to putting together antipasti this week! A couple of long cranberry walnut biscotti also ended up in my bag. I ate half of a long biscotti this morning for breakfast and unfortunately, it didn't compare to that of the Termini Bros. It almost tasted like packaged biscotti that I've given up on. 

What I really wanted to do for lunch was to go back to that new Italian cafe. Even though I was traveling alone, I still felt odd asking for a table for one in a fine dining establishment. I waited until about the 2 o'clock hour, after the lunch rush. I remember leaning towards the hostess to softly speak my request. She did ask me if I was here for coffee, but after I replied, "for lunch," she grabbed a menu and graciously showed me a corner table. My waiter was fantastic as well. Seeing that I went for the wine list first, he asked me what I like to drink. After I answered, "Chianti," he recommended the similar red wine of the week, under their special weekly menu currently celebrating the city of Assisi. It was a blend of Umbrian Sangiovese, Cabernet, and Merlot. ...and it was delicious. Medium-bodied, but smooth like I like. The meal came with delicious bread and olive oil garnished with cheese and pepper. Their lunch menu consists of small plates. I ordered two: classic tomato and basil Bruschette and lamb Arrosticini Abruzzese. After my food came, I was wished, buon appetito. Both dishes were well done and delicious ...oh, and messy... As half the topping fell off the crostini with every bite and I managed to spill the sauce trying to remove the meat from the skewers, I was content not having a date this time! I happen to be a rather picky and plain eater, but the accompanying cold chili pepper sauce was pretty good too. I don't think I've had arrosticini since my farewell dinner on one of the old streets in Pescara back in the spring of 2005. In Italy, you have memories of specific legendary meals. Anyway, arrosticini was a special dish there. After all that, the waiter told me that I looked so happy and suggested a coffee to tie it up. I didn't mention my caffeine sensitivity and I also didn't even get up to look at the case of gelati, I simply ordered my favorite flavor, a small portion of baci, which is chocolate with hazelnut. It was delicious and at this point, thankfully not too rich, the perfect blend of decadent flavor and creaminess. I spent on this one meal what I spent on groceries for two weeks during February, but it's completely okay to splurge every once in awhile. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.








I loved the restaurant with its white marble tabletops and other traditional touches as well as its warm yet airy and happy ambiance. I think I have a new favorite place in Philadelphia!


After my meal, I made my way back to the train station. I lucked out with a window seat again, ideal for daydreamers.

I enjoyed my first chocolate chip cookie for dessert after a late salad dinner last night.


Today, I had my last one for dessert after another salad lunch and a walk. I also ate salad again for dinner tonight. Balance is key in life.


I had such a good trip...

Have you ever been to Philadelphia? If not, I highly recommend it.



Sunday, March 19, 2017

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Decorating for Easter

I finished decorating a tray on top of my coffee table with an Easter or springtime theme today. I enjoyed the process.


I don't usually decorate for each holiday and season, so this activity was out of the ordinary for me. In fact, I don't own any holiday decor besides pieces for Christmas for a couple of reasons. First, I have had a few items over the years, but as a minimalist, since I didn't love them anymore, I have decluttered them. Secondly, I don't factor those purchases into my (tight) budget. I do, however, hope to acquire holiday and seasonal decor pieces I love.


I hosted Easter dinner for my family last year and in browsing for items for my tablescape, I ran across a white ceramic bunny [now available in stores only] from Crate & Barrel. I missed out on it last season, so I was delighted to see the retailer sell it again this year. (I may want to host the feast again this year, but am unsure at the moment. It happens to be the day after my birthday.) The bunny is bigger than I anticipated, but I still love it. I consider it to be fitting of my style. I adore that this is a modern twist on a traditional motif. It is sleek and simple. This order was one of my first purchases following my No Spend February.


Since my dining room table runner is red and that doesn't go with the pastels of Easter, I decided against creating a dining table centerpiece. Instead, I chose to decorate the wooded tray [no longer available] from West Elm on top of my coffee table. First, I cleared the tray. To accompany my bunny, I shopped my home for decor next. I already had a stack of mother-of-pearl coasters [out of stock online] from World Market there, so I kept them. I took a white candle (with a scent called Peony Petals) in a clear glass jar from Target from an end table and added it to the tray as well. One of the things I love about Easter is the chocolate, so I wanted something white to hold candy. At first, I looked around for a dish, but I ended up with a white cappuccino cup and saucer from Crate & Barrel. On Saturday morning, I purchased pastel M&M's from Target (on sale with a Cartwheel discount) to fill the mug. It holds the whole bag! I knew that I wanted an odd number of items for my tray, so I needed a fifth piece. I decided that I would buy fresh flowers at my local grocery store on Sunday and fill one of the vases I had. Today, I selected six white roses (for $5). For the next couple of days, I have them arranged in a tall clear glass vase from HomeGoods. On Tuesday, I will cut the stems and place them in one of my shorter vases. When it is time for the flowers to go, I have a few ideas for a replacement. (I might not buy flowers every week throughout the spring.)


I like how my little bit of Easter decor turned out. The whites are not too bright, but warm. I favor rich, vibrant color, but I have contrast with the white on the dark brown surface, plus with so much white, the pop of pastels in the candy is nice, not to mention more appropriate for the holiday.


Four stacks of three books fill the lower shelf of the coffee table. Facing the sofa, I selected books featuring some pale pink covers. (Including two fantastic books by my readers! Thirty Chic Days by Fiona Ferris and La Dolce Vita by Kristi Belle.)


Are you decorating for an upcoming holiday or for the spring?



Today is my first day of my blogging challenge. I am going to do something for the blog every day for the next three weeks. I will publish a post every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday of that period. Among other topics, I plan to post again about my last two personal challenges.

Also, please follow me on my blog's Instagram @theitaliagal. I tend to post extras there and will do so for my daytrip to Philadelphia soon! You don't want to miss that!



Sunday, March 12, 2017

New Challenges: Clean Kitchen At Night and Blogging Daily

I am truly sorry that I haven't been posting lately. Last month threw me for a loop! I've been proclaiming, "I am leaving February behind." The day after I last published, I got sick with an upper respiratory infection with a side of laryngitis and conjunctivitis in both eyes. So, in February I had the flu and a bad cold. I figured that I was sick for 13 days, not including days where I only had one symptom, such a bad cough that people would stare! The cold was actually almost as bad as the flu because I could hardly keep food down and for me, that symptom simply crosses the line. Of course, I stayed in bed a lot and majorly slowed down both times, but I wasn't acting like myself at all with the second round of illness. I am always hard on myself. I did accept the fact that rest took precedence over productivity and I did somewhat "show myself grace," which was one of my New Year's Resolutions. I did everything I could to get better in order to attend my beloved grandmother's funeral at the end of the month.

This is a really quick snapshot of the gladiola in an arrangement at the funeral.
My grandmother used to grow gladiola in her garden.

Deaths tend to occur in threes and that actually came true in February. Plus, a couple of my friends continue to experience difficulties in life. And then having a difficult No Spend Month challenge was the cherry on top.

I'm so glad it's a new month. In March, I have been trying to get back into my usual routine. I realize that this is not my normal Sunday post, but I wanted to share about a couple of new lifestyle challenges before they start. Author of the book on habits entitled "Better than Before," Gretchen Rubin would call me an Upholder since I meet both inner and outer expectations. Even though I am committed on my own, I want to share these personal challenges with my readers so that I have an audience to be accountable to.

Since Daylight Savings Time begins and it is light out later today, I thought that I would start a new lifestyle challenge that enhances my evenings. From tonight, Sunday, March 12th through Saturday, March 18th, I will not go to bed without leaving my kitchen clean. My energy tends to crash at about 7:30 PM each day and even though I have some energy before bedtime, I don't have a serious come back. Since I am aware that I have more energy in the morning, I tend to procrastinate, leaving the kitchen at least a bit dirty at night, leaving it until the next morning. I want to drop this bad habit. This week, I want all the dishes cleaned, dried and put away, not even left clean in the dishwasher. I want my counters to be wiped down. I don't want coffee splatter left on my stovetop from making daily morning espresso in my moka pot. If there is anything messy on the refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, sink, cabinets, floors, or trash cans, I would like to clean that up as well. I plan to record this accomplishment by taking a picture of my clean kitchen and then posting the photo on Instagram with the hashtag #cleankitchenatnight. You can follow me @theitaliagal. Lauren @an_organized_life often uses this particular hashtag on her Instagram account. If you wish to join me, feel free to tag me. I would love to see your pictures! I will at least write about it here on the blog after the challenge is over, but I may post about it another time during the week.

Immediately following that, on Sunday, March 19th, I plan to keep up the momentum and start another daily challenge. I always meant to make working on my blog a daily habit, but never have. I want to commit to a formal challenge. I want to work on my blog seven days a week for three weeks through Saturday, April 8th. I plan to publish a post every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday during that time period. I will strive to publish good content. As a lifestyle blogger, I truly believe in quality over quantity. To achieve better posts, I am deciding against publishing everyday. Still, I may just post a picture and a sentence. Or write a paragraph on what I did that day. Just to post something. To establish the routine. To focus on my personal growth. What I truly need to focus on in this challenge is frequency. I need to develop this habit. They say that it takes 21 days! What is truly making me procrastinate on regularly working and posting is my perfectionism. Jennifer of The Daily Connoisseur talked about not looking perfect and mentioned having "one of those days" recently. Those conversations including the fact that a woman I admire tries no matter what comforted me. It's okay not to be perfect, but it's not so great not to show up. I no longer want everything having to be perfect to hold me back in life. My readers tell me that they appreciate that I am so real. I adore that comment as I truly value authenticity. I should be even more open and furthermore, engage in my beloved hobby that is a part of me that more on a daily basis rather than a weekly one.

I have a long list of subjects that I would love to write about! I do plan on writing about my No Spend February and my strict grocery budget for the month once more, including at least a couple of tips and what I learned. I haven't forgotten that I wanted to post an updated home tour in pictures. I would also love to share what I did on my upcoming daytrip to Philadelphia. I haven't visited in a year and I am so excited! I will kinda take you guys with me by posting pictures on Instagram, so, again, be sure to follow me @theitaliagal.

I hope that you will forgive me for not posting lately. As you can see, I am working on improving. And now, if you will excuse me... It is getting late and I have a kitchen to clean! See you later on Instagram!