Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

April’s Food Budget Challenge Finale

April’s Food Budget Challenge Finale

At the beginning of April, I gave my husband Vin and myself a mighty challenge. Track every food and drink purchase to get a better idea of what we’re spending in an average month. To say I’ve been blindsided by the results is an understatement. For two people who don’t eat large portions, dine out rarely and hardly drink alcohol, we collectively spend a lot of money on food and drink. In April, that grand total was a shuddering $1,041.57.

 trade fair grocery

Here’s how that broke down:

Groceries: $542.78

Meals Out: $318.87

Drinks (all non-alcoholic): $124.12

My Total Spending: $566.32

Vin’s Total Spending: $475.85

Grand Total: $1,041.57

(Sidenote: I didn’t tally all purchases in this breakdown). 


So what have I learned from this?

* Well, we live in an expensive area, first of all. This is obviously not news to me, but when I took photographs of all the food I purchased at the grocery for $40, $50, and $60 it just didn’t really look like that much food. Bummer.

* There are some things we’re willing to spend money on, simply because they make our lives better. I’m never going to stop buying organic chicken, milk or eggs to save money. That was a conscious switch I made years ago, and it’s staying put for a multitude of reasons. We’re never going to stop going out to dinner on Saturday nights or having brunch with friends on Sunday. Life’s too short.

* Some battles aren’t worth fighting. When I began to see $3+ hot chocolates from Dunkin’ Donuts pop up on Vin’s side of the spreadsheet nearly every single workday, it admittedly seemed like an easy cut to make. I make coffee at home, and I was thinking maybe he could make hot chocolate at his work with an electric kettle he has there. But Vin is a hard-working man who leaves his office very rarely throughout the day, and grabbing a hot chocolate down the street at Dunkin’ is often his only break. I get it.

* I need to look at grocery shopping as a weekly whole, rather than a series of individual meals. Meaning, because I love to cook and find a lot of joy in it, I often over-complicate things and feel like every dinner has to be some big ordeal. This leads to multiple trips to the grocery store for various ingredients, when I should be buying stuff that can be used multiple times weekly for a variety of meals. Also, it wouldn’t kill us to have just a simple meal comprised of 3-4 ingredients from time to time.

* If I prepare lunches for us daily, our overall spending will go down quite a bit. Both of our spending during the day is proportionally much higher on days when I don’t pack us lunches. This is a no-brainer which unfortunately requires more effort on my part, cause Vin sure ain’t waking up early to make turkey sandwiches.

 salad lunch

Vin and I have had the same method for divvying up costs for the five years we’ve lived together. I pay for all groceries; he pays for all meals out. We also have very concrete ways of splitting up our other monthly bills. However, this is the first time Vin and I have ever tracked our budgets together as a financial team, and it’s opened up a floodgate of conversations about money, savings and our financial future. All good  things. We’re now talking about other ways to bring in extra income, and investments we might consider making. Not all aspects of married or coupled life are terribly romantic though, are they? Not sure if I can convince him to keep tracking purchases for May, but it makes sense to me to see if we’re able to get our spending down.


I tip my hat to anyone who managed to continue with this challenge through the whole month. Did anyone else follow through? What lessons did you learn about your spending?

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Food Budget Challenge: Week 4

Food Budget Challenge: Week 4

As we grow closer to the end of the month, I find myself very ready for this food budget challenge to end. Not just because I commonly find myself forgetting to track my purchases on our shared spreadsheet, but because looking at the numbers of what’s being spent each month has been giving me some serious financial anxiety. I’ve been truly surprised by the amount of money we spend on food, and April was actually a “lean” month for us. We have gone out to eat at the most once per week, and we haven’t hosted anyone at all. And yet, the total amount we spend weekly is much larger than I thought it would be. I also noticed, after visiting a few other neighborhoods in Queens, that the prices in our neighborhood of Astoria are higher  due to its proximity to Manhattan.


This challenge has highlighted some poor habits for both of us, which can be difficult to look at. For me, I’ve learned that I’m pretty crummy at meal planning. Sure, I half-heartedly flip through cookbooks on Sunday morning with a vague idea of what I’d like to make that week, but once I hit the grocery stores, all bets are off. When it comes to cooking, I go day by day, because the urban lifestyle allows me to do so. I go to the grocery store an average of three times a week, and when you do that, it’s way too easy to throw stuff in the cart that could be done without.

bacon frosting

Like bacon frosting. No one needs bacon frosting.

As for the ol’ ball and chain, well I’ll let him evaluate his column and see what he might be able to adapt to save a few bucks.

Anyway, I wasn’t up to photographing the contents of my grocery cart this week, but it was a big shop week for me, as it felt like we were out of almost everything. About once a month, we’ll hit Trader Joe’s, and I always spend a lot more than usual there as I’m stocking up on certain items that they carry that I’m obsessed with (honey-roasted sliced almonds= 4 bags) and because we go there in a car, which means I can actually purchase more than I can carry out with two hands.

 Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 5.42.18 PM

Meals made:  pizza with spinach, tomatoes and mozzarella; shrimp and grits, quinoa and broccoli fried rice, pesto and mozzarella chicken sandwiches, strawberry and goat cheese salad

And to review, totals by week:

Week 1: $270.78

Week 2: $258.42

Week 3: $177.13

Week 4: $252.37

Total (as of April 26th): $958.70

That total is gross. But not as gross as bacon frosting.

How’d y’all do? Are any of you still tracking, or are you getting as tired of it as I am? :)

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Food Budget Challenge: Week 3

Food Budget Challenge: Week 3

Ten years ago, when I was a single girl in Colorado, I distinctly remember spending about $35 a week on groceries. My cart was full of healthy girl food and so consequently was my fridge. My, how times have changed. These days it’s a rare event to spend less than $50 on a grocery trip, even when it’s just a quickie run for a few last-minute items.

Not only that, but today I share a home and a refrigerator with a man whose metabolism occasionally makes me want to hurl small soft pieces of fruit at his face, because it’s all just so unfair that he should eat what he eats and get away with it. That flat-bellied fool drinks hot chocolate once or twice a day, indulges in burgers at least twice a week, and brought a big sexy bag of Cheez Doodles into this house the other day knowing full well that I am completely powerless to their cheezy charms.

Why, Vin? Why?

The stuff I bought for the week was far more boring:

DSC_9524Grocery Trip: salmon, 3 packages organic chicken, half and half, taco seasoning, free-range eggs, 1 package quinoa, cuties oranges

Total: $47.47


And here was our grand total for last week, including last weekend’s eats...$258.42 (is it just me, or is it insane that two people spend $250 a  week on food?)


 last weekend food



this week food

One improvement made this week: Almost 100% homemade lunches. Now if we could only kick our hot beverage habits during the day…

DSC_9516Spinach salads with grilled chicken, toasted almonds, avocado, chia seeds and creamy herb dressing

DSC_9520Rotini pasta with asparagus, lemon, olive oil, fresh mint and toasted almonds

Meals Made: Sweet & Sour Chicken & Pineapple over rice with garlic broccoli, roasted salmon with cauliflower, lentil tacos, stir-fry with quinoa, chicken, cauliflower and leftover chimichurri sauce, homemade strawberry shortcakes, sweet potato/spinach/chickpea saute with lemon, olive oil, toasted almonds and z’aatar, baked tostadas with black bean & jalapeno spread, zucchini and caramelized onions

Improvements Made: almost 100% lunches brought to work (!); used fruit in several dishes instead of letting them die slow deaths in the crisper drawer like they usually do; ate leftovers for dinner


Grand total (as of April 18): $619.

And if you’ll recall, I started this whole challenge based on the notion that I thought my friend spending $600 a month on groceries was crazy high. And we did it by the 18th day of the month. We must be advanced or something.



Ugh. Adulthood sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?

How’d y’all fare this week?




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Food Budget Challenge: Week Two

Food Budget Challenge: Week Two

This food budget challenge has been very eye-opening. Although only 12 days into this habit of tracking the cost of all food and drink purchases, I can already tell that we spend way more than I thought we did on food. It’s a little scary, actually. Two weeks of tracking all of our food costs has ignited a desire to track other purchases more diligently.

I’ve been very pleased with how agreeable– dare I say enthusiastic?– Vin has been about this challenge. He is quite analytical, and I can tell he gets kind of excited about spreadsheets. Evidence A:

Screen shot 2013-04-10 at 11.37.38 AM

Apparently logging his daily purchases has been somewhat of a cathartic experience for him and has presented an opportunity to also express some of his thoughts and feelings. Isn’t that lovely?

Most importantly, it has initiated an important dialogue about how we spend money as a couple. The other night, Vin turned to me and said, “I realize that by showing you everything I spend money on, I’m opening up some critique on both how I eat and how I spend.”

I think that’s why I appreciate him doing this little project with me so much. We both know that we eat differently, and spend differently, but tracking our purchases side by side has really highlighted those differences. Part of the difference stems from the fact that I cook and he does not, so my purchases are whole foods and very few snacks. His purchases are mostly impulse buys with a high fun factor. We shop very differently.  I mean, there’s a reason I rarely take him to the grocery store with me. I present Evidence B:


Followed closely by Evidence C:


Oh Vin. To know you is to love you.

Anyway, I left Vin at home and went grocery shopping on my own this week (at three different stores…oh Queens).

DSC_9509G rocery Trip 1: rotini pasta, white rice, greek yogurt, skirt steak, garlic, broccoli, raisins, turbinado sugar, parsley, cilanro, blue cheese, 3 plantains

Total= $28

DSC_9512G rocery Trip 2: big ass box of strawberries, onions, 3 zucchini, 2 bosc pears, 3 baby avocados, quinoa, pineapple, butternut squash, asparagus, melon, hot chocolate (for Vin’s apparent hot chocolate addiction).

TOTAL: $31.51

DSC_9514Grocery Trip 3: 1 whole organic chicken, 6 limes, big ass box of spinach, coffee beans, red lentils, cornmeal, organic applesauce, butter, 2 cans chickpeas, honey, fresh ginger, fresh mint, Andes mints (for Vin’s apparent MINT hot chocolate addiction)

TOTAL: $52.37

So how did that factor into our weekly spending? Let’s see: This is from this Monday, April 8th to today: (The first column is Vin; the second is me).

this weeks food listTOTAL:  $169.21

I did three grocery stops, so my total was bigger than Vin’s this week. Vin spent most of his lunch money on hot chocolates from Dunkin’ Donuts. Someone has a bit of an addiction, which contributed to my purchase of some fancy Ghiradelli cocoa to save a few bucks on outings. Spending overall not horrible, but week ain’t over yet.

And here’s the final tally from the full week (Monday- Sunday) of last week. The total blew my mind.

last weeks final tally

TOTAL= $270.78 (!) (Are you effin’ serious??!)

MONTHLY SPENDING (so far): $439.99 (FOR TWO WEEKS! How can this be?!)

Meals Made: Argentinian skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, white rice and honey-glazed plantains; buffalo chicken quinoa bites with blue-cheese dressing, breakfast “cookies” with oatmeal, mashed banana and applesauce; chicken, pineapple and cilantro risotto drizzled with Thai peanut-coconut sauce, cantaloupe with honey, lime, ginger and mint, broccoli fried quinoa-rice

Next Week’s Plan: Try to pack lunches for work everyday!; No grocery trip–use existing food in house since there’s plenty of it!


If you’re also tracking your food spending, please share how you’re doing here or on Facebook. Anyone else totally blindsided by how much they spend?


*Also, sidenote: after writing this post last night, I fell asleep and had a dream that I was best friends with Justin Timberlake and we did a fashion budget challenge together. I’m guessing he spends more than I do.

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Food Budget Challenge: Week One

Food Budget Challenge: Week One

Week one almost done! I guess we can’t officially call it a week since I began tallying my food/drink totals on Monday and today’s only Friday, but this is how I’ll be checking in. Every Friday in April, I’ll give an update on what my husband Vin and I spent on food and drink for the week thus far. This week will come out looking like a champ since we started with a fairly well-stocked fridge and pantry and we’re skipping Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, which happens to be when all the good eating out usually happens. Next week will probably present a far more realistic picture.


So. Here’s how my week usually goes in terms of food purchases. Living in Astoria, Queens (just outside of Manhattan) definitely influences the way I shop for food, especially since I don’t drive and refrain from buying anything I can’t carry home with my own mule-like shoulders. I’m very lucky (ahem…spoiled) to live within a five-minute walk of four different grocery stores, and I shop at all of them for different things. This usually means I make multiple pit-stops for groceries throughout the week as opposed to one big weekly shop. If time allows, I’ll also occasionally hit the Union Square Green Market for fresh produce after work, but pickings are still a little slim this time of year.

The Usual Strategy: I’ll  scope out the situation in my fridge and pantry before hitting the grocery store and try to find new ingredients to complement the stuff I’ve already got. I’ll try to use up the more perishable stuff sooner in the week (ie: asparagus, lettuce, fresh fish) and save the hardier stuff that’s less likely to go bad quickly (ie: butternut squash, sweet potatoes, other root veggies) for later in the week. We eat most meals at home, but usually eat out one or two times on the weekends. I buy all the groceries; Vin pays for meals out or deliveries in. It’s very rare that I buy snack foods, so Vin usually makes stops at grocery stores to buy those for himself when cravings strike.

Grocery Trip: Round 1 (Trade Fair)


Items purchased: 2 packages organic chicken breasts, 2-pack tilapia, 2 leeks, 8 lemons, english muffins, jalapenos and fresh red/green chilis, 2 cans diced green chilis (you can take the girl outta Texas…), cheddar cheese, bananas, cauliflower, 3 large sweet potatoes, 3 small yogurts, one dozen cage free eggs, white mushrooms, one bottle cheap white wine, 2 stalks green onion, rye bread, one bag of chocolate chips and a 1-lb. bag of raw almonds.   TOTAL= $69.30

You will notice a conspicuous absence of a few things here. Really no fruit or fresh greens because I already had some at home, and also because this store’s produce section leaves a whole lot to be desired. This is usually the place I go to for dried, canned or frozen foods and it’s especially helpful for Middle Eastern, Indian and Hispanic ingredients.

This particular shopping trip produced an ethical dilemma, as the store’s meat workers have been on strike outside of the store for about two weeks now (some controversy about the labeling of their Halal meat products), and I felt like a total a-hole shopping there. Yet, and I’m wondering if my upstairs neighbors agree, this place is just far too easy to pass up. It’s the cheapest grocery store in the hood, it’s really fun to explore all the exotic products and most importantly, it is about a 30-second walk outside my apartment. Vin and I lovingly refer to it as “the pantry” and routinely stop in at least once a day for odds and ends.

To keep track of each of our spending, Vin made a document in Google Drive. I found it really helpful to track not just what we’re spending on food, but also the kinds of purchases we’re making to understand what we’re putting into our engines each week!


 Not too bad. But like I said, this is really only tracking four complete days, so the total is pretty low. Also, I’ve had a bit of a cold this week and a pretty small appetite, so I haven’t been cooking or eating a lot. Per the chart stats, Vin is a fan of Dunkin’ drinks, while I can’t get through a work day without a liter of seltzer. Hey man, there are worse habits. I will probably not be cutting this corner anytime soon.

STRATEGIES: Plan meals around produce already in fridge that’s about to go bad

MEALS MADE AT HOME: cornmeal-crusted tilapia, sweet potato cakes with red chilis and cilantro with herbed sauce, chicken and broccoli fried rice/quinoa, homemade granola bars (hence the chocolate chips), black bean and cheddar quesadillas, paprika shrimp with chickpeas and spinach

WHAT WE’RE DOING WELL: 100% homemade dinners, few impulse purchases

WHAT WE COULD DO BETTER: more packed lunches for work, better meal planning


Anyone else keeping track? Please join the conversation in the comments or on my facebook page and let us know how things shook out for you (and your wallet) this week!



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The Great Food Budget Challenge

The Great Food Budget Challenge

My best friend Callie and I were chatting on the phone last weekend. Our conversation lasted about two hours, and per usual, it eventually detoured to food.

sugar plums

She and I are both pretty health conscious, and we both prefer cooking at home to eating out. We both complained about how difficult it can be to plan meals for the week and stay within a specific budget while living in expensive cities (she’s in Santa Monica; I’m in Queens). When she mentioned that she spent about $600 a month on food for her and her husband, two things occurred to me: 1) Wow. Six hundred dollars sounds like an awful lot to spend on food for two people in one month, and 2) It is entirely possible that we spend about the same amount, and I just don’t realize it. Truth be told, I have absolutely no idea how much we spend a month on food. And that ain’t good.


Vin and I have very clear guidelines for how we handle food, both financially and practically—I pay for all groceries and cook all meals; Vin pays for all meals eaten out (deliveries included) and washes the dishes after dinner. If we’re having a party, Vin typically foots the bill while I do the prep work. This system has worked really well for us, and I imagine we both end up spending about the same amount, depending how many times we eat out that month (it’s usually 1x per week) or how frequently we entertain (not often enough!).


As we start saving in earnest for a house (or an apartment) to buy, it’s high time I take a much closer look at where our money is going. I’m embarrassed to say that I’d have to review my credit card statement to know how much I spent on food in March, so starting next Monday—April 1st—I will begin saving every receipt the two of us spend on food. I’ll report my progress for the week on the blog for the next few Fridays. Once May rolls around, I will set a specific budget and try like hell to stick to it.

So I’m curious…how much do you spend on food per month, and for how many people?

If you’re not currently keeping track, I encourage you to start tracking on April 1st as well!

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Coconut French Toast with Warm Pineapple Compote, Toasted Almonds and Coconut Shavings

Coconut French Toast with Warm Pineapple Compote, Toasted Almonds and Coconut Shavings

News flash: It is still winter on the East Coast. Bummer, I know. My skin is still chafed,  my feet are permanently cold and my cheap, acrylic sweaters continue to pill. So I take solace in warm thoughts. I visualize a secluded beach. Face shaded by the rim of a big straw hat. Fingers curled around a fruity drink. Toes buried in the sand.


And a delicious, tropic-inspired breakfast that makes me feel like I scored a patio table at a breakfast cafe in Kauai.

We were there for our honeymoon in October, and it was heaven. Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.  John Denver really knew what he was talking about.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you:  Hawaii is friggin’ paradise.

It is prettier than you heard and more picturesque than you can imagine.

 Ugh. I mean…have you evah?

 the good jump

I’ve got a fever for warmer temperatures and the only prescription is aloha spirit.

hawaii breakfsst0

…and a delicious, Maui-Wowie kind of breakfast.

This recipe comes together quickly, and really captures the spirit of the islands, mon. Wait–that’s Jamaica. Anyway, I really  thought this was a great twist on a breakfast classic, and I hope you do too. I revised the french toast recipe from Easy Breakfast and Brunch: Simple Recipes for Morning Treats, which is a great resource for breakfast and brunch meals.


Coconut French Toast with Warm Pineapple Compote, Toasted Almonds and Coconut Shavings


  • 6-8 medium slices challah or brioche
  • 2/3 cups canned coconut milk
  • 2 eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 2 tbsp superfine sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • fresh pineapple (cored and sliced, then cut into strips or cubes)
  • 1 knob butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds (toasted in dry saute pan or baked in oven)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shaved coconut (toasted w. almonds; watch carefully-then burn fast!)


Coconut French Toast
Mix beaten egg, coconut milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in a shallow dish. Dredge sliced challah or brioche through mixture, then saute in butter until golden brown on both sides.
Warm Pineapple Compote
Melt a bit of butter in a saucepan, then add sliced pineapple and brown sugar and saute until pineapple browns slightly and sugar boils and gets syrupy. Serve warm over french toast, then sprinkle with chopped coconut and almonds.

Next time, I’m serving it with one of these bad boys. Then I’m gonna make Vin wear a Tommy Bahama shirt while he washes the dishes. Looks like the honeymoon really is over.


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Chalupas with sweet potato, caramelized onion and rosemary-white beans

Chalupas with sweet potato, caramelized onion and rosemary-white beans

I grew up in Texas, which means I have a natural tendency to gravitate toward anything served on a tortilla. Whether it’s corn or flour, hard or soft, a tortilla is the perfect vessel for delivering delicious toppings straight into the harbor that is my mouth.

When you hear the word chalupa, it’s likely you think of the thing that slips out of that square little box from Taco Bell–ground beef, grated cheddar, a thick spread of pinto beans. I’m constantly making new chalupa combinations, and they are usually a very far run from the border.

chalupas with white beans and sweet potatoes

This one is distinctly fall-inspired, replacing pinto beans with rosemary-imbued cannellinis and heavy beef with caramelized onions and roasted sweet potatoes. The corn tortillas are baked until crisp, then slathered with bean spread and topped with a heaping helping of fun.



Baked Chalupas with Sweet Potato, Caramelized Onions and Rosemary-Garlic White Bean Spread
1. Caramelize onions. Here’s how.
2. Slice up sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces and roast or saute with olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. Bake corn tortillas on cookie sheet until crisp.
4. While tortillas are crisping, puree 1 can cannellini beans (rinsed) with garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil in a food processor.
5. Spread beans on tortillas, top with onions and sweet potato and sprinkle with goat cheese. Bake until warm.
I served them most recently to my friends Chris and Bridget, who insisted before serving that she only wanted one. First bite. A little wink and a slight smirk arrive on Bridget’s face.
“Okay, I’ll have two.”
chalupas with white beans and sweet potatoes
How many will you have?
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The Foods we HATE

The Foods we HATE

Over dinner recently, my dad’s wife Angie and I were talking about food. The subject was fun for me as I’m pretty much always talking about food. But Angie’s not really into food as a topic of conversation. She eats it when she’s hungry, but it’s not something she spends an inordinate time thinking about like this ol’ girl.

It is common knowledge that Angie hates onions. That’s a hard one for me to wrap my head around, as onions simmered with garlic is one of my all-time favorite ways to begin any dish. Angie’s always considered me an adventurous eater, and was pretty surprised when I mentioned that I have plenty of foods that I hate too. The list is long, and exposes a few of my neuroses.

They include:

* Olives
* Anchovies and sardines (swimming salt bombs)
* Cream cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream
* Black licorice (red is tolerable, but would never be chosen over chocolate anything)
* Anything mayo-based like potato salad, chicken salad (all I can picture is a big bowl of potato salad festering out in the sun at a summer bbq. Makes my stomach turn).
* Canned tuna (I’ve actually never even tried it because I’m so turned off by the smell. Also, the act of opening the can reminds me of opening cat food).
* Raisins (grape rejects)
* Capers (Dad calls them ‘rat turds’. Not getting past that association).
* Scrambled or hard-boiled eggs (fried is the only way I like ‘em)
* Any and all organ meats, pate, foie gras (blech)
* Pretty much any canned vegetable (the texture is just mush)
* Raw oysters (my Gulf Coast daddy used to basically force-feed me these as a child and I am forever scarred).
* Sauerkraut
* Most things that are pickled
* Cooked carrots (but love ‘em raw)
* Raw tomatoes (but like ‘em cooked)

When I connect the dots, it’s easy to see that texture is a huge factor for me as most of the items on my most-hated list are soft and mushy. When it comes to flavor, anything too salty seems to turn me off.

What foods trigger your gag reflex?
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Pumpkin Spice Smoothie

We’re having a bit of an October heat snap over here in the northeast, which has thwarted my plans to stuff myself into cordouroy pants and simmer chili in my newly purchased Crockpot. No boots, no scarves, no steaming bowls of soup. We’re back to tank tops and flip-flops and quick meals that won’t make the apartment feel like a boiler room. 
Luckily I found a way to imbue the warm weather with some seasonal flava. It’s called the pumpkin spice smoothie and it’s the best thing to happen to October since “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

It all started with this: a huge, sticky tub of the original pumpkin spice syrup, delivered straight to my door by my gracious upstairs neighbor who happens to manage a Starbucks. You can’t buy this stuff. It’s all who you know, people. But luckily you know me, and I’m about to share this recipe. (And don’t worry your pretty little heads if you don’t have any buds at ‘Bucks. You can buy an equally delicious syrup from Torani here).

Pumpkin Spice Smoothie
1 whole banana, cut up into chunks and frozen
1 cup light soymilk (or almond milk, or whatever you’ve got)
1 dash vanilla
pumpkin syrup (to taste)
Toss in a blender and whirl away! Top with a dash of pumpkin pie spice.
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