Category Archives: Bargains

Thriving Thursday: Free Makeover?

Caution: Men you may be very bored by this post. Ladies on the other hand, huddle around, it’s story time. Ok, so I was perusing TJ Maxx looking for summer dresses when a woman walked up to me, “I just have to tell you, you have beautiful skin.” Hah! Maybe from over there but get a little closer and you’ll see how wrong you are. “No! You have gorgeous skin!”

This woman was about my age, stunning with a brunette bob and huge almond eyes. And dressed stylishly to boot. And here she was telling me that I had gorgeous skin. I knew there was something wrong with this picture. But I went with it anyway. I was curious where she was going with this. Turns out, she works for Mary Kay. If you provide the location and friends, they will come over and do your makeup for free! Obviously they hope that you buy something but there’s no obligation. So she took my number and promised to call.

I got back to the office later that afternoon and my coworker, Elle, sidles over to me and says, “You’ll never guess what happened to me today. A woman walked up to me in TJ Maxx and said I had beautiful skin…” You can guess where it goes from here. Same woman, same store, different days. And we are coworkers!

So obviously it’s some way for her to make money but at the bottom of the situation there were FREE MAKEOVERS! So we thought it over, we communicated with Emily, our Mary Kay consultant, and we decided that we wanted to get them done before a night out.

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So a few Saturday’s ago, I cooked up some appetizers and several ladies, including Elle, sat around my dining room table with bare faces. It’s amazing how naked you feel without makeup on, especially around relative strangers. Of course I forgot to take photos when all the food and makeup was on the table but the above photo is us with Emily looking all beautimous.

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All the significant others sat and watched March Madness while Emily guided us through our makeovers. She gave each of us some great tips and gorgeous makeup supplies. Being the hostess, I got a sweet deal of $75 worth of makeup for $35.

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After we had finished the makeovers and the men had told us how gorgeous we looked, we went line dancing! It was a fantastic night and so cheap! I love the makeup and face wash I bought and Emily got another party out of it. I highly recommend a Mary Kay Makeover to anyone looking for a fun Ladies Night. If you live in Peoria, let me know and I’ll get you Emily’s contact info.

I hope you’re all having fantastic days. Love and hugs – Ash

ps. I’ll be on vacation in Louisiana this weekend for a good friend’s wedding so no post tomorrow or Monday. Enjoy your weekends!

Friday Design: Spring in My Dining Room

It’s Spring in my dining room! As most of you know, I’m an architect by training. So when we moved into our apartment here, I was SO excited to actually have some space to decorate. I absolutely love bold colors so I was pretty bummed when I realized that we couldn’t paint the walls. Instead, I’ve learned to inject color into a room through wall art, dish ware, rugs, etc.

I found a deal at our local grocery on a dozen roses ($5!) and used them to bring Spring into our home. It’s still pretty cold here but the sun in shining and it’s putting me (and everyone else) in a great mood. Not to mention my Happiness Project is actually working 🙂

photo 2^ Pretty flowers in my new vase …

And, if you’ve checked out my tagline (“braving the world with no money in my pocket and a smile on my face”) you know that we can’t put much money into making our apartment beautiful. So here’s the breakdown:

  • Gorgeous Fire/Water painting – moving gift from a very close friend. You could probably do a simple, impactful painting for about $50. As a word of advice, shower praise on the artists in your life. There’s nothing better than a gorgeous piece of art that actually means something.
  • Table set with cool, high-back chairs (I plan on refinishing this) – Craigslist $80
  • Striped rug – TJMaxx $65
  • Plant – bought it as a seedling – Loews $10
  • Recycled tire pot – Unclaimed Freight Store (check for one in your area) $10
  • Yellow vase – Unclaimed Freight $3
  • Green and blue swirl fruit bowl – hand painted by me! $25 (but worth the experience)

photo 1Everything in this photo= $188

And now we’re at the weekend. YAY. Au revoir until Monday! I hope you all have a relaxing couple of days. Love and hugs – Ash

 

DIY Friday: Meal Planning Board

So you’re trying to eat healthy? I bet you have tons of people in the wellness community telling you “it’s really not that expensive!” Well they are wrong. Eating healthy can be VERY expensive. To keep the cost manageable you have to do a lot of planning. You have you cook most of your own food and you can’t have any food waste. Unless you plan, IT IS time-consuming and expensive.

Mike and I have been gradually increasing our health factor over the last several months while trying to keep costs low. We have set up a system where, whenever either of us buys food, we put the receipt on the coffee table for the other to review. It holds us accountable and makes us analyze where money could be better spent.

Then I meal plan. I’m very organized and love to plan ahead so this isn’t too hard for me but I was lacking the necessary tools. That’s why I made this bad boy. My meal planning board.

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My dinner system:

  • Cook double-portions every other day. This means only cooking from scratch 3 times a week! I cook half the meal only partially so it’s not overcooked when I reheat it for dinner the next day.
  • Eat leftovers on the days I don’t cook.
  • Have our “vacation meal” on the seventh day.

It’s quick and means that I can buy more in bulk. Our breakfast is the same every morning (Grainless Granola) and each of us takes care of our lunch separately. It’s a pretty nifty system but I was getting really confused about which meals I was going to cook and which food I needed on my weekly grocery shop.

So during our Simple Sunday this past weekend, the weather was nice enough to paint out on the porch. I finally did my Meal Planning board and I love it!

Supplies:

  • Pretty frame (mine was $5 at Goodwill)
  • Spray paint (for color)
  • Spray paint (for chalk or whiteboard coating)
  • clothespins
  • some cardstock to label the pins
  • fabric to hold the labels
  • hot glue gun
  • a little sandpaper to prep the frame glass
  • painters tape (if you want to do a pattern)
  • an old sheet to protect your floor

Instructions:

photo 2^ Make sure you have a surface to stick the pins to. This frame had lots of dips in it so I blocked it out with some chips of cardboard I had in the recycling bin.

photo 3^ Separate the frame and glass. Sand the glass so it will hold the paint. Spray down all pieces with however many coats they need. *I started with chalkboard paint but it didn’t work all that well. I went back and exchanged it for whiteboard paint and repainted the glass.

photo 4< If you want to paint a pattern, wait until the base layer is dry and then tape it off and spray. *I originally had yellow stripes in mine but it was just too much with the raised dots AND baby yellow. After I finished it I went back and repainted it all white.

Stick the clothespins down with hot glue. If that doesn’t hold, graduate to the messier but much stronger Gorilla Glue.

photo 2 copy^ Cut out your cardstock. And write out any of your favorite dishes. Hot glue your fabric pockets to store them in. Then label the pins with the same cardstock. Mine are for each day of the week and then Snacks to take to work for that week. Here’s the template I made for my labels:  MealBoardLabels

Another idea, for complicated meals, write the ingredients on the back of the card so you don’t have to look back to the cook book every time.

photo 1 copy

And now you have a meal planning board! I’ve only been using mine for a week and I already love it. It takes the strain out of meal planning and makes cooking SO much easier. I will say it looks a little sad and bland with all the white and gray but I’m hoping I can paint the walls our next kitchen so it will just be a pretty accent on a sunny yellow wall. 🙂

Let me know if you have any questions. And HAPPY FRIDAY! Love and a toothy smile. – Ash

 

 

DIY Friday: Cheap and Easy Framing

Large picture frames are expensive. Sometimes you can find deals in standard sizes but when you have a photo or poster of weird dimensions, forget it. Custom frames can cost $100+. So when I found this sweet wrapping paper (yes it’s supposed to be wrapping paper) at Paper Source, I bought it and decided to figure a creative way to frame it. Another cool thing is that the wood is heavy so it weighs down the poster and keeps it straight.

Tip: when you take it off the wall to move, all you have to do is roll it up! And use this for multiple frames. It’s really easy to do once you collect the materials.

Total cost (including the “poster”)$15

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Materials:

  • A poster worthy of framing
  • 1/4″ x 1″ trim, the length of your poster
  • wood stain and a brush (optional, you can keep it raw wood)
  • 8-10 flat thumbtacks
  • 4-6 wire brads (skinny nails)

Instructions

  1. If you don’t have a saw at home, when you buy the wood, ask the hardware store to cut it for you. With only 2 or 3 cuts, they usually do it for free.
  2. Optional: Stain the wood. Let it dry in open air before proceeding.
  3. Pin the top and bottom of the poster to the back of the wood.
  4. Nail it into the wall with the brads.
  5. Admire your handy work 🙂

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Let me know how it goes. Or just send me a photo! 🙂

Marvelous Monday: Hot Dogs, Museum, and a Luxury Hotel

Living in a relatively small city immediately after graduation was (and still is) a big shock to me. It’s not because of the different types of people and it’s not even because I’m far from home, it’s the lack of variation! I realized it when I was walking around Chicago this weekend. No one stares at me because I have short hair and am wearing a gorgeous red coat. I know this sounds hyperbolic but I’m totally serious. I’ve found myself toning down my level of “urban” and it wasn’t until this weekend that I fully realized it.

Needless to say, it was wonderfully liberating to be in Chicago again this weekend. I met my best friend in the entire world, Sarah. She flew from North Carolina to meet me and, of course, it was epic. Somehow, when we get together, we manage to find the most incredible deals on some really swanky experiences. So instead of writing it all down, I’ll show you some photos!

*Credit to Sarah for most of the photos. Pick them out by spotting the good ones.*

Day One:

858717_10100863993292329_723608124_o^ This restaurant is called the Pump Room (in the Public Hotel). Before we got here, Sarah found a voucher for a gourmet meal on GiltCity.com. Mixology cocktails, tuna tartare, apple and brie toast,  lobster ravioli, and a caramel corn salted sundae. We ate until midnight and then collapsed in our hotel room.

Day Two:

We obviously had to see The Bean (cloudgate). This is by far my favorite monument in any city that I’ve seen. It is really a gorgeous shape and it brings together every view of the inside of the city. Also, it’s REALLY fun to take pictures with it.

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We both felt like absorbing a little culture (and keeping out of the freezing weather outside) so we checked out the Art Institute. The building was very beautiful and the exhibits were right up our alley (they even had one of Studio Gang Architects).

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Then we ditched the cultural stuff and headed about 15 minutes outside the city to Hot Dougs. This place serves the most unbelievable hot dog I’ve ever seen. We checked out the reviews online and decided on the following: Duck dog with foie gras and truffle aoili, rabbit dog with ricotta cheese and raspberry preserves, 2 normal dogs with all the toppings, and cheese fries.

We had to wait outside in 20°F for ONE HOUR to even get inside this place. It was packed. But once we did order, it was pretty affordable and the dogs were to die for. The only time Sarah and I are ever quiet is when we are hungry and when we are mowing down food like this.

IMG_1022 ^ We even got to meat (haha) Doug himself!

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That night we stayed in and enjoyed our most luxurious hotel room and some deep dish pizza.

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This hotel room needs some further explanation. As I mentioned, Sarah and I find the most amazing bargains. I found this hotel room at Swisshotel (they are usually upwards of $200) for $110 a night on Bookit.com. It was SO worth the effort. This place was so nice that we WANTED to stay in and enjoy it. I took photos of the tiny details so you would understand.

IMG_1030 ^ Bedside table: light switches for the whole room, an alarm clock AND ipod player, and outlets on the lamp. Perfection.

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^ A CLEAN tub and a shower. Also, please note the phone next to the toilet. If you’re wondering, of course I used it.

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^ When the maids came in, they straightened up our shoes and toiletries and the room was sparkling.

IMG_1031^ There was a Keurig coffee maker with free K-cups. And wine glasses and bottle openers. These people knew we were coming.

We spent Sunday chatting and doing some shopping (aka bargain hunting) before Sarah had to fly out. It was MUCH too short of a stay but absolutely wonderful all the same. There’s nothing like the company of your best girlfriend 🙂

DIY Monday: Happy Couch Pillows :)

Happy Monday Ya’ll! I am so happy January is over. That was a tough month for me. It’s always kind of shaky getting back on your feet after the holidays. Combine that with some harsh weather and you get a very sad, cooped up kind of life. But only for January! And now it’s February and spring is a whole month closer!

So this weekend I got Saturday off at the very last minute and I got TWO whole days off in a row. Woohoo! I took complete advantage of it by snuggling in for some terrible TV for pretty much the whole two days. I also decided it was time to break out the new sewing machine I got from my parents for Christmas.

It is unbelievably cool. They’ve invented so much neat stuff since the last time I sewed (about 10 years ago?) So I got the requisite pant and shirt sleeve hemming out of the way. And then I began on our new couch pillows!

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Some old (18″x18″) pillows from Goodwill, simple cotton fabric, and about two hours of machine time and I had these babies! I took a lot of inspiration from Pinterest but I needed to make some that wasn’t too girly (in consideration for the man I share a house with) but was also kinda funky and cute. I love them.

I used this awesome guide for fold over pillows.

TIME: 2 hours sewing time

COST: about $10 each

LEVEL: beginner – pillows are SO easy. The hardest part was sewing in circles for the eyes.

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What do you think?

Happy February! 🙂

Fun Times Friday: Lunch Date and Line Dancing!

Happy Friday everyone! You made it. Since you’re coming up on some blissful rest days, I thought I’d give you a few ideas for a day out. Here in Illinois, it’s bitterly cold; last Saturday we had a heat wave when it got up to 45°F. Mike and I are beginning to get cabin fever couped up inside all day long. So since, it was my date day last Saturday, I got us out and around town as much as possible. All while staying under a budget.

First we picked up lunch from a wonderful little bakery/caterer/deli in Peoria. It’s called the Cracked Pepper and they had pepper grinders everywhere!

CrackedPepper1

CrackedPepper2

These were my favorites. Isn’t the gold so pretty?

Riverfront

Then, because the sun was out, we drove down to the Peoria waterfront and ate our lunch on a bench outside. We bundled up so we wouldn’t freeze and it was so wonderful to just sit in the sun. And cheap!

Then, ever the scavengers for cheap activities, we headed to the Caterpillar Visitors Museum to check out all the big machines Mike helps build. He gets in for free and I only cost $7. Sweet! Keep a lookout for student, senior, employee deals in your area to save yourself some dough. You can find out events and discounts in local (free) papers and handouts in newspaper stands.

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I lost track of what all the machines were called… But they’re cool! And Mike helps make them 🙂

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This is the WHEEL of the biggest truck made, ever, in the world. It’s used for mining and the bed of it is 35 feet wide. In the museum, they fit a movie theater in it. So sweet.

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The simulator driver things. I had really wanted to get my operators license until I tried this thing. Mike was awesome. Me, not so good. Lol.

Then that night…drumroll please…we went line dancing! What?? I never really thought about it but, of course, line dancing in the midwest is the real deal. It was about 20 minutes from our house in a real barn called Stone Country Saloon. There was a massive dance floor and tons of locals (none of them wearing plaid oddly enough). It turns out that when I get a couple beers in me, I’m really pretty good at line dancing. I pick up the moves like a champ. By the end, I had people coming up and teaching me the steps. I guess that’s normal in these places but I felt privileged.

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Mike stayed at the bar to watch most of the time but jumped in when he felt he could do it. Isn’t it weird how much more nervous to mess up men are when it comes to dancing? Maybe it’s their lack of hips. I don’t know.

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But I’m in love. I’m going back this weekend. I want to get to know the patrons there. And the awesome saloon owner, Dan. And I WILL get good at line dancing before leaving the midwest.

On top of all this wonderfulness, the cover on a Saturday is $7 (a little steep) but the beers were $3 (makes everything ok).

What are some sweet deals you’ve found in your area? I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

Tasty Tuesday: Roasted Chickpeas

I’ve been keeping a pretty tight watch on Pinterest lately. Yesterday I spent an hour friending people and looking through their pins. It was AMAZING. So many cheap DIY ideas and pretty house stuff. I can only imagine what it will be like when I actually have something to plan for like a new house or a wedding or a baby or something. One question I have, with all the time people spend on Pinterest, do they ever actually do any of the things they pin??

Here the link to my Pinterest if you’re interested in following me.

On that note, Pinterest has become my online recipe book and I finally made something from it on Sunday: Roasted Chickpeas. I found the recipe on one of my favorite blogs: SammieKennedy.com. Here is the link for her post of the recipe.

So I had a couple of cans of chickpeas with every intention of making them into hummus, then I thought, why not fry them instead? These were so tasty warm out of the oven but even better when I toasted them again the next day. So savory with just a little crunch. And actually pretty good for you. And for the financial restricted, they’re cheap too!

RoastedChickpeas-Published

 

Ingredients

  • 2 12oz cans of organic chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (ok because this will be medium heat only)
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. 
  2. Drain and rinse the chickpeas with water. Dry them on a paper towel.
  3. Add chickpeas and all spices to a bowl and stir until chickpeas are covered.
  4. Pour oil in pan then heat it in the oven for a few minutes. Take it out and shake the pan to distribute the oil.
  5. Spread the chickpeas in the pan in a single layer.
  6. Cook for 10 minutes shaking the pan every 3 minutes to ensure the peas don’t burn.
  7. Enjoy!

Tip: These will dry out over night. Stick them in the toaster for a couple of minutes for an even tastier, crispier snack.

Thanks for the recipe Sammie Kennedy! Everyone, please check out her site for more awesome recipes and health info.

And let me know what you think after making these 🙂

 

Friday DIY: Brazilian Wax (Ladies Only!)

Men (and conservative women), you are forewarned: this post contains A LOT of in depth lady jargon. It reveals the dark side of beauty. DO NOT READ THIS. STOP NOW.

If you’re still reading, be prepared. Now ladies, how many of you get waxed down there in your nether regions? How much does it cost you? $30, $40, maybe something like $80? First, let me explain why I wax:

  1. Shaving really sucks. I used to get terrible razor burn and razor stubble is just foul. I don’t want my VJ to feel like sandpaper.
  2. Waxing only needs to be done every 4 weeks, and once you’ve been doing it for several years, you can go as long as 8 weeks!
  3. It actually makes your hair follicles weaker and your hair thinner. I’m to the point where my hair has stopped growing in some spots. Awesome!

Yes, it hurts. But it’s so worth it. And because your hair follicles get weaker, the pain actually gets less the more you do it. One thing I should mention is that, once you start waxing, you should NEVER shave. It reverses all the long term benefits I mentioned above. If you shave once, it’s like starting from zero on the waxing scale.

When I moved from Boston to Peoria, the price of Brazilian waxing went from $40 to $80. WHAT?!? I’ve been searching for months for something cheaper to no avail. I did find a beauty school that did the simple bikini waxes (check out this post) but no one would take it all off without charging an arm and a leg. So I decided to do it myself.

Needless to say, I was VERY nervous. Who the heck takes the chance of buying their own wax, spreading it hot and sticky all over the very sensitive patch between their legs, and then ripping it off with their own two hands? I could be making a very big mistake. But I will say, I’d watched quite a few estheticians do it to me, might as well try and do it to myself right?

Moom

So I did my research on wax and found this great option on Amazon. Of course I had to go natural so I bought sugar wax. It’s water soluble and works great on thick and thin hair. It’s called Moom. It came with everything I needed to wax (except for the sweat-absorbing starch) including microwavable wax, reusable strips, and wooden applicator sticks. And the best part, it was only $14!

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So it arrived and I stared at it on my dresser for several weeks before I plucked up the courage to try it. I set up my little station and went to work. The only things I needed that weren’t included were a towel to sit on, a mirror for when hunching over wasn’t enough, rubbing alcohol to disinfect, starch to soak up the moisture before I got started, and tweezers for post-wax clean up. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Use a cotton ball to spread rubbing alcohol over the region first.
  2. Dab some baby powder, corn starch, or any kind of starch (I used tapioca because that’s all I had) before you get started. It soaks up any moisture and the wax sticks better.
  3. Trim your hair down to 1/2″ (1cm) so the wax can pick up more of it.
  4. Heat up the wax until it’s a honey-like consistency.
  5. Analyze the direction your hair is growing in. Spread the wax in a thin layer in the same direction.
  6. Pull your skin taut and pull the strip off very fast in the opposite direction of hair growth.
  7. For a bit of relief, put pressure on the area immediately after you pull the strip off.
  8. Work methodically in sections so you don’t have to wax any area more than once.
  9. You won’t get every single hair so use the tweezers to snag stragglers.
  10. Rinse off any patches of wax with warm water. Dab dry then apply a light moisturizer to soothe the skin.

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I did feel a bit like a hunchback after 45 minutes of sitting in front of the mirror but it went really well! I didn’t rip off any skin and my happy triangle is smooth and clean. The tub of wax isn’t even 1/3 gone and I rinsed the strips clean with hot water and can use them again next time. It was a MUCH better experience than I anticipated and I’m so stoked that I found a cheap alternative to salons.

Who wants to try it? Ask me any questions, I’m happy to answer. I hope you all have very wonderful, very sexy weekends 😉

Tasty Tuesday: Chicken Tikka Masala

Professional cyclists DO NOT eat a healthy diet. Especially not the riders over in Europe. Mike and I saw this first hand when, while following the Giro d’Italia, we picked up their discarded feed bags on the side of the road. All we found were pastries and “energy bars” full of refined sugar and bad carbohydrates. It was unbelievable to us that their team directors think it acceptable and, above all, profitable to fuel their riders with these kinds of food. How much better would they perform on a 5 hour race day if their bodies could actually use the food they were given?

FeedZoneCookbook

This weekend I met two of my favorite chef’s: Dr. Allen Lim and Chef Biju Thomas. They co-authored “The Feed Zone Cookbook.” Allen Lim was the director of sport sciences for professional cycling teams, Radioshack and Garmin. He introduced the idea of gluten-sensitivity and the importance of a healthy diet in a training plan. Biju Thomas is an avid cyclist and chef to some of the top riders in the US. The cookbook is based on very simple but very healthy meals that could be cooked with 3-5 ingredients on one stove-top while on the road. I love it.

One of my favorites (and now perfectly adapted for me) recipes is their Chicken Tikka Masala. Their version uses lots of yogurt which is fine if it’s raw (or at least organic) but I wanted to see if I could get rid of it altogether. So I replaced it with canned coconut milk and OH-EM-GEE. Really, really yummy.

I was always nervous about cooking curry because it’s so tasty that I figured it would be complicated. Absolutely not the case. This is one of the easiest dishes I’ve ever cooked and it now holds a preferred spot on our meal planning menu.

Curry-Published

 

Ingredients (3 servings, double this to make 6 servings and last a couple days)

  • 4 cups of cooked quinoa for the base
  • 2 lbs chicken, cut into bite sized pieces (I used my leftover chicken from my roast last week)
  • 1-cup tomato sauce
  • 1 12oz can organic coconut milk (shake before opening)
  • 2 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 a sliced onion
  • 1 tsp salt
  • a dash of cayenne pepper or 2-4 green chiles, cut into strips (optional)

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and, if you can, let marinate in the fridge for at least an hour. I didn’t have time for this and it was still delicious.
  2. Pour all ingredients into a deep pan and simmer, uncovered, over medium heat for 30 minutes.
  3. Spoon on top of your quinoa and enjoy!

It’s the simplest and most delicious meal. Definitely one of our favorites. Try to pair it with a spinach salad to get your raw veggies in.

Let me know how it goes! I hope you’re all having very fun and spicy days 🙂