Monday, May 31, 2010

Family Recipe - Lasagna

Matt and I try hard to eat in a way that is healthy and affordable. One way we do this is by making a big batch of something over the weekend, to box up into individual servings for lunch for the work-week.

I'm the more confident chef, but Matt is really coming into his own in the kitchen these days.

As I prepare to start my surgical residency, I know that I won't be able to captain our cooking adventures to the same extent that I used to. As such, I'm putting together a recipe series of all of our 'go-to' family meals for Matt to refer to when he becomes Kitchen Captain.


1 package no-bake lasagna noodles (we like the whole-wheat ones from Target)
1 package chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 egg
1 container ricotta cheese (10-15 oz is fine)
1 package shredded mozzarella cheese (we like the 2% milk kind)
2 28-oz jars pasta sauce (nothing too chunky -- we use Prego)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F
2. Mix ricotta cheese, drained spinach, egg, and 1/2 package of shredded mozzarella
3. In a glass 9x13" baking dish, cover bottom of dish with sauce
4. Layer first layer of noodles across baking dish
5. Spoon 1/3 of ricotta-spinach mixture over noodles
6. Spoon 1/4 of remaining sauce over ricotta layer
7. Repeat this layer process 2 more times, using up all of the ricotta-spinach mixture
8. Place final layer of noodles on top of lasagna
9. Cover final layer of noodles with remainder of sauce and remaining 1/2 package of mozzarella
10. Cover lasagna with foil
11. Bake lasagna for 45 mins; remove foil and resume baking for 10 additional minutes until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly

Allow to cool before cutting or serving.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Call Me a Puritan

I've had it...too much of popular music today is just plain vulgar.

Case in point: Rihanna's current hit song, 'Rude Boy.'

Haven't heard it? Well, just follow this link. (Yes, Mom...It's YouTube. Just follow the link. There's a first time for everything.)

A lyrical sampling:
Come here rude boy / boy can you get it up / Come here rude boy / boy is you big enough / Take it, take it / Baby, baby / Take it, take it / Love me, love me / Tonight I'mma give it to you harder / Tonight I'mma turn your body out / Relax Let me do it how I wanna / If you got it I need it / And I'mma put it down

A delightful, subtle take on young romance, right? Yeah -- about as subtle as Elton John at a Gay Pride Parade.

(I didn't actually mean this kind of 'Parade')

Why does this song bother me? Well, it's obscene. It's lewd. But, I think the worst thing is it's so completely stupid. There is nothing remotely clever, thoughtful, or even interesting about this song. It's just S-E-X in your face...

I mean, sex is considered an intimate act for a reason...there is something personal and inherently mysterious about it that shouldn't be shrugged off like it doesn't matter. Rihanna, if you--as an artist--are going to sing about sex on the radio, why don't you package it with a little clever innuendo or at least a double-entendre here and there? Make us think about it a little...

Because, you know what, Rihanna -- your crude song is cheapening sex for the rest of us.

Obnoxious Facebook Status Posts

Some members of my Facebook circle have a bad habit of writing really braggy status posts, along the lines of: "Just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now off to LA to continue my win-streak on Jeopardy. Plus, still training for the Boston Marathon. And, I found $20 in my jeans pocket."

Posts like these always leave me feeling stressed-out and inadequate. Hearing that you just got a perfect score on the GRE / bought a vacation house in Malibu / were promoted to CFO of Coca-Cola makes my daily accomplishments (unloading the dishwasher, getting Matt to hang up his wet towel, eating one ice cream sandwich instead of two) feel really crummy.

And that's not to say that I'm not guilty of this too. I've had an accomplishment or two in my day, and I often feel compelled to rush off to Facebook to update the masses on my success. This is normal...Facebook allows up to remain in contact with a huge social circle, and it's only natural to want your third cousin and your high school frenemy to realize how well you're doing.

Nonetheless, there is a fine line between pride + excitement in one's accomplishments and boastfulness.

Facebook, unfortunately, is boasting-central. Like I said, I'm guilty, too. After graduating from medical school, I posted the status: "It's Dr. JLlo from now on." I would
never had said that to someone's face; it's obnoxious and prideful...but the anonymity of Facebook made it seem okay.

Therefore, I am challenging myself to write status updates that will leave people feeling happy and content--or at least give them a chuckle at my frequent, frazzled misadventures--rather than stir up feelings of inadequacy.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Keeping Your Financial Life Organized

Matt and I have been reading this book lately. Now, David Bach is kind of a cheesy guy, but he does explain complicated financial concepts simply and present a well-reasoned approach to using the money you make to live the life you want. Plus, he is an Incredibly Encouraging writer...seriously, that guy could motivate a pig to fly.

One thing we really liked was his section on how to organize all of your money-related files. This particularly hit home because one of us (achem, Jessica) had some trouble finding last year's tax returns when we were applying for our mortgage.

The scheme involves having big files with a variety of sub-files, and goes something like this:

Tax Returns
-8 sub-folders (one for each of the last 7 years, one for the current year)
(do 7 years because that is the duration the IRS can examine when they audit you)

Retirement Accounts

-Make sub-folders for each retirement account held by you and/or your partner (IRA, 401(k), etc)

Social Security

-Keep you most recent SS Benefits Statement in here

Investment Accounts

-Make sub-folders for each and every non-retirement investment account you have

Savings & Checking Accounts

-Self-explanatory. Make sub-folders for each account.

Household Accounts

-Make sub-folders for: House Title, Home Improvements, & Home Mortgage

Credit Cards

-You got it...sub-folder for each card with monthly statements and card terms/benefits

Other Liabilities
(i.e. STUDENT LOANS, car loans, etc)
-This is a doozy for us -- keep a folder with info on each loan, repayment terms, payment verification, etc


-Make sub-folders for: Homeowners/Renters, Health, Life, Car, Disability, etc

Family Will/Trust

-Keep a copy of your most recent will in here, along with the business card of your attorney

Children's Accounts

-We don't have kids, so we felt fine about skipping this one

Financial Planning

-Ever met with a financial planner? Done home/online financial planning? Put that in here.

Matt and I work hard for our money (these days, who doesn't), and we want to be smart about how we save (and spend)...staying organized gives us the tools to make smart money decisions.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

So Long, Pre-Washed Salad Greens

So, Matt and I are members of a CSA.

What is a CSA, you ask?

Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season

Being CSA members has lots of benefits: plenty of farm-fresh seasonal goodies, street-cred with the hipster-enviro set, feeling of community involvement, cost-savings, etc.

There is, however, ONE HUGE DRAWBACK.

These are my salad greens, chilling in the newly-christened "drying zone" before I use them.

I would describe my family as early-adopters of the pre-washed, bagged lettuce movement. Circa 1998, my mom had like 10 bags of that stuff in our fridge at any moment. You never know when the neighbors might drop by for...salad. (Big Secret -- it all went bad...every time...but that just gave her reason to buy more). It's like she was on a mission to single-handedly keep the Dole Fresh Lettuces division in business.

Well, the apple doesn't fall far from Fresh Express Spring Mix, and I quickly became a pre-washed, bagged salad addict when I went to college and started buying my own groceries.

All was well in Lettuce Land, until the CSA. See, it's lettuce season and I feel compelled to buy the farm's lettuces...which are so far from washed that I actually once found a lightening bug in a head of romaine.

To make matters worse, I don't have a salad spinner (why would I...this is 2010, not 1950), so once I painstakingly wash this stuff, then I have to either: a) eat it sopping wet or b) swaddle it in paper towels until it's all dry. Realizing that both of those options are ridiculous, today I tried leaving it out on a dish towel (the drying zone) to dry for a few minutes, all-the-while taunted by images of the SuperTarget shelves, packed with industrial-farmed, carbon-steeped, water-wasting, flown-in-from-CA, glorious bagged lettuce goodness. I guess sometimes we know we're doing the right thing because it feels so hard.

Lessons from Mitchell

Until we adopted Mitchell, I had never had a dog.
I can say now that I was not really sure what to expect. To all those similarly situated, I offer these words:

1. The morning begins no later than 8:30 a.m., even on weekends. Regrettably, Mitchell did not come from his adoption agency fully trained to use human bathroom facilities and Jessica and I have been unable to encourage him to take up this civilized habit.

With predictable results

The consequence is that each and every morning Mitchell must be escorted outside to do his business no matter the harshness of the elements. Mitchell is also incapable of the noble male tradition of rising at (the unfathomably early hour of) 8:30 to stumble to the facilities and then immediately returning to bed for another 2-4 hours of blissful, beautiful sleep. Instead, he immediately demands breakfast, and by the time he’s been fed, I’m awake. Thus, I’m forced to begin every day at a time befitting a reasonable adult. Jessica is in favor of this...between the two of us, that makes one.

2. You will hold poop in your hands. Granted it will be separated by an incredibly thin scrap of plastic bag (if you are operating the doggie bag correctly), but you will still get to appreciate many subtleties (warmth, texture) of your pet’s proudest production.

This is a family blog

3. Your dog will terrify people, and that is awesome. The number of people terrified by your dog will vary depending on size, shape, and general ferocity, but rest assured that somewhere there is someone afraid of your dog. That should make you feel good. Despite Mitchell’s perpetual docility bordering on slumber, that fact that he is tall, pointy, and has large razor-sharp fangs strikes fear into many passersby. I drink in their fear.

Mitchell and I enjoy walks most afternoons

4. Looking at your dog will, in and of itself, always be funny.

Comedy Gold

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Frugal is the New Black

Money--making it, spending it, (not) saving it--is a hot topic amongst the newlywed set.

Matt and I are lucky, in that we agree on the goal of *living slightly below our means*. We don't want to deprive ourselves of the the fruits of our labors (i.e. we work hard and feel justified spending some of our money on indulgences), but we also don't want to feel stretched paying our bills at the end of the month.

We like thinking of ourselves as frugal.

Recently, John & Sherry at Young House Love posted an amazing commentary by John's dad about being frugal, in which he said: too often frugality is incorrectly viewed as “giving up,” when the real point of frugality is “getting what you really really want.” Many times I think the main point of frugality isn’t in “not buying;” the main point of frugality- and perhaps life- is to recognize what brings you the greatest rewards and to go enthusiastically for those things.


Matt and I don't mind being 'cheap' about some things (okay, many things) if that allows us to get the things we really want. Making a big purchase still hurts a little, but the sting of spending is lessened by knowing that we can afford our big purchase thanks to our savings in other areas.

[Also, please don't think that being frugal means we don't want all kinds of things--trust me, I want Everything (what can I say...I'm really susceptible to mass marketing)--but knowing what we really, really want makes it easier to say no to the things we only sort-of want.]

How Do We Do Frugality?
-I wear my natural haircolor (but you can bet I'm sure-as-heck getting highlights when I'm an attending in 6-8 years)
-We make lunches from scratch on Sunday and carry them to work every day
-We eat almost all of our meals at home, and when we do go out, we try to do brunch or's cheaper
-Cooking vegetarian is cheap (as well as tasty)
-We work hard to eat the food we buy before it spoils (this sometimes leads to some really creative meals)
-We sell and buy on Craigslist...get money for things you no longer need / find great deals on new(to you) stuff
-We forgo DVR and also Netflix...there's plenty to entertain us on regular cable and the Internet.
-Everyone you know has a SmartPhone? Well, I have a DumbPhone...and it works fine (I just got a new-used phone [hand-me down from Matt, whose work bought him a shiny new phone], and thought I'd hit the jackpot because it has speaker-phone)
-We don't drink that much (seriously...alcohol is expensive...and contributes unfavorably to that mid-twenties spare-tire we've been trying to avoid)
-We wear our clothes for A Long, they get turned down by GoodWill

What Are We Saving For?
-New car for JLlo
-Trip to Hawaii for friends' wedding
-Trip to Hong Kong
-Redoing our kitchen and bathrooms

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Evidence shows that goals which are written, and--better yet--shared, are more likely to be achieved than non-written goals.

As such, Matt and I felt excited to discuss and document some of our goals.

We tried to focus our goals in 4 areas: Personal, Professional, Financial, & Family. As an organizational strategy, we made short-term goals (one year), mid-term goals (six years, to coincide with the end of my residency training), and long-term goals.

We tried to keep our goals manageable and not write too many...our thought is, it's better to write a small number of goals and achieve them, then write more even-bigger goals, rather than pick too many right away and become discouraged.

Setting long-terms goals was a particular challenge to us, since we don't really know what we're doing with our lives...I don't know what kind of Urology I want to practice, or even whether I want to stay in academic medicine versus go into private practice...and Matt feels similarly about his law career. So, our long-term goals are sparse now, but we are looking forward to filling them in as our future becomes more clear.

GOALS (2010-2011)

One Year Goals
    • Jessica: Exercise at least twice per week throughout intern year
    • Matt: Form new band
    • Matt: Workout 2+ times per week
    • Both: Take Mitchell to dog park at least twice/month
    • Both: Save at least $XXX every month (aim for $XXXX)
    • Jessica: Read educational material for at least 12 minutes per day, 5x/week
    • Matt: Have a trial of my own
    • Matt: Have my own client
    • Jessica: Walk Mitchell or eat dinner with Matt at least 2x/week
    • Matt: Devise and implement floral landscaping plan for our house
    • Both: Learn to play tennis

Six Year Goals
    • Jessica: Run 2nd marathon during research year
    • Matt: Record an album of original music in a recording studio
    • Matt: Assemble a custom bass guitar
    • Jessica: Finish residency with at least $XXk in savings
    • Matt: Have at least $XXk in dedicated retirement savings
    • Matt: Earn raises equal to at least $XXk above starting salary
    • Jessica: Read and study strategically to pass the American Board of Urology licensing exam
    • Jessica: Publish 5 articles during residency
    • Matt: Be on the 'partner track'
    • Both: Renovate/update kitchen and both bathrooms
    • Both: Host get-together at our home at least once per month
    • Both: Plan big vacation to celebrate the end of residency

Long-term Goals
    • Both: Have decent furniture and establish an appealing design aesthetic
    • Jessica: be financially able to retire by age 55
    • Matt: pay off student loans by age 36
    • Jessica: become an attending physician
    • Both: Budget for and find a professional housekeeper/cleaner
    • Both: Acquire a papillon. Name it 'Shoelace'

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Salad Days

An idiomatic expression, referring to a youthful time, accompanied by the inexperience, enthusiasm, idealism, and innocence that one associates with a young person.

More modern use, especially in the US, refers to a person's heyday when one was at the peak of his/her abilities.