Monthly Archives: July 2012

Pizza Pasta Salad

Lately I’ve been going through a wee bit of a pizza fixation. But eating that much pizza even with whole grain crusts can’t be all that healthy, plus cranking my oven up to 500 F at the end of a hot day is sometimes a bit much. So in order to enjoy those pizza flavors, increase the vegetable quotient, and avoid heating up my entire house, I came up with this pasta salad recipe. I should warn you that my pasta salads tend to be heavier on the salad and lighter on the pasta, so if you want a more traditional dish, double the amount of pasta. Also, for you meat eaters out there, this would be really tasty with pepperoni or prosciutto. The banana peppers give it a little bit of a kick, but if you want more heat, try peperoncinis. Not a fan of any amount of spiciness? Use 2 tbsp red wine vinegar instead.

Pizza Pasta Salad

  • 6 ounces short pasta (like penne) cooked and cooled
  • 1 large tomato diced, or 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
  • 4 baby zucchini or squash, thinly sliced (you want the smallest squash you can find)
  • 1 medium or 1/2 large red onion, diced
  • 6 ounces mozzarella, diced or shredded
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pickled banana peppers, drained & chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano or 1/2 tbsp dried
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Allow to refrigerate for at least one hour before serving so flavors can meld. Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side dish.



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Weekly Money Check-Up 7/30/12

1. The most I’ve spent this last week was at Costco: renewing my membership, filling my tank, buying kibble and a pack of protein bars.

2. Today I am thankful for having a very international group of friends. It’s been so fun watching the Olympics and hearing all the accents and listening to all the anthems.

3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free thing I did last week that made me happy was spend Saturday night catch up with friends, meeting some new people, and eating delicious caramel cake.

4. I will consider this week a success if a single tomato on my plants ripens. Just one: that’s all I’m asking for.

5. This summer has been pretty nice. We’ve only had a few stretches of 100+ weather, not too many grass fires, and no drought warnings over our heads.

Weekly Money Check-Up is a weekly series on My Pretty Pennies. To participate, please visit Ginna’s blog!

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Bye Bye Boxes

The next step of tackling my office was to confront the closet in there. I had three main issues with my closet: gift bags and rolls of wrapping paper that I attempt to put on the shelf in there but knock them all down when I go to retrieve one, the craft supplies that I leave on the floor in their shopping bags, and the empty boxes that I just toss in there from packages I’ve received. In under an hour I transferred all gift wrapping supplies to a desk drawer, craft supplies were neatly packed in a Rubbermaid container that previously contained all my extra toiletries (yay for I Complete You!), and most of the boxes were collapsed and ready to be taken to recycling.Those boxes are now temporarily taking up space in my living room, as you can in this lovely artificially lit photo.

I did save 4 in case I ever ship anything (1 tiny, 1 small, 1 medium, and 1 large) and a bag of packing peanuts. While I haven’t taken any photos of the now mostly empty closet, I do have one more poorly lit photo of Falcor who wanted his picture taken.

I promise he’s normally white, not yellow.

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On a Binge

I know yesterday’s post was largely upbeat (yay for paying down debt, building up savings, and having a positive net worth!) but I have to admit, I haven’t been doing so well this month. I really enjoyed my day in San Francisco and while I went slightly over my budget for the day, I figured it was no big deal. Except, once I started to spend, it was really hard to stop. I haven’t done anything too crazy, but there’s been lots of buying snacks while away from home even though I had trail mix, picking up take out when I had food I could eat, buying fancy ingredients I don’t need, and driving when biking could do just fine. Basically, I blew my savings for the month.

I like to compare the various parts of my life to balls I’m juggling: research, studying, housework, cooking, taking care of my dog, working on the farm, cleaning houses, babysitting, and keeping a balanced budget, not to mention family, friends, church, and, oh yeah, time to myself. Usually I can keep them all in the air and occasionally even pull off a stunt, but once I drop one of those balls, it’s really hard to pick it back up and get back into rhythm. This month, that ball happened to be my budget.

The fact is, I could put less emphasis on savings and paying off debt and have a lot more flexibility for going out or shopping. Heck, a lot people tell me that they went way into credit card debt during grad school on top of student loans. But I don’t want that to be me. I want to prove that you can be a student, pay down debt and put away money into savings. More importantly, I don’t want to finish in 2 to 3 years and be panicked because I don’t have anything to live on while I job hunt, with tons of credit card debt and a student loan. However, at the same time, the thought of several more years of an incredibly pinched life (I spend less on my groceries than food stamp recipients) seems a little bleak.

Any advice from my lovely and wise readers on how to squelch the urge to spend and reconcile myself to such a tight budget?


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Net Worth July 2012

So, I’m now 6 months into this budgeting experiment and have gotten really wrapped up in the day-to-day and monthly expenses. However, I thought I’d take a look and see what my finances look like as a big picture.


  • Mortgage: $50,800
  • Credit Cards: $5,600
  • Student Loans: $20,000
  • Total: $76,400

Fortunately, the credit cards are down $800 in 6 months, which isn’t great but once I start my double pay, I should be able to lower that number considerably in the next few months.  Also, since I’ve been doing research, the student loan part hasn’t gone up at all.


  • House Value: $125,000
  • Car: $2,000
  • Savings: $2,000
  • Total: $129,000

The house value I got off of Zillow, which may not be the best estimate, so make of it what you may. As for my car, Slick isn’t worth much technically, but he’s paid for, fuel efficient, reliable, and to me, completely invaluable. Finally, I’ve been able to put $1300 into savings in the past 6 months, another decent achievement for my rather tight budget.

Net Worth


I have to say, I’m pretty proud of this. Clearly this is mostly due to the value of my home. I managed to buy at the bottom of the market, make a down payment of over 20%, and now it has doubled its market value. I doubt I could actually get that price today but it’s nice to know I did something right along the way.

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Zucchini Pizza

Apparently pizza is now my go to dish for when I have friends over. Homemade pizza is impressive but easy to make, can be topped with whatever you feel like, and only takes 10 minutes in the oven. If I’m feeling ambitious, I set out a bunch of sauces, cheeses, and toppings, and it becomes a make your own pizza fest. This weekend, we kept it simple and topped it with the last of last year’s marinara, local mozzarella, oregano from my garden, and thinly sliced zucchini from the farm. I was surprised by how much I liked the zucchini, it didn’t get mushy and instead added a bit of crunch and a really fresh flavor. This crust recipe is adapted from my boyfriend, Mark Bittman, and resembles the crust from an upscale pizzeria. It makes 2 pizzas and serves 4 to 6 officially, though with 4 people I only had 1 slice leftover.
Basic Pizza Dough

  • 3 cups all purpose or bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • additional vegetable oil or cornmeal
  • additional flour

Mix first four ingredients. Stir in water until a slightly stick ball forms. (This would be a great place to use a mixer or food processor) Set in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Allow to rest until doubled in size, ~1 to 2 hours. Divide dough into 2 even parts, flatten into discs, put on wooden cutting board sprinkled with flour and cover with the kitchen towel. Allow to rest for ~20 minutes, and preheat the oven to 500 F. If using a pizza stone, sprinkle with cornmeal, if using a cookie sheet sprinkle with cornmeal or coat with oil (I like the cornmeal better). Roll out one crust at a time, using more flour if needed to prevent sticking. Transfer the first crust, top as desired, then bake for 10 minutes.

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Weekly Money Check-Up 7/23/12

1. The most I’ve spent this last week was on gas, as always.

2. Today I am thankful for a good companion in my dog.

3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free thing I did last week that made me happy was weed my garden then spend half the weekend reading in the shade with a mug of tea or glass of wine.

4. I will consider this week a success if I work out twice with my new Jillian Michaels DVD.

5. I am most looking forward to the running events in the Olympics. I ran track and cross country in high school and as an adult enjoy the occasional half or full marathon.  It’s so awe inspiring.

Weekly Money Check-Up is a weekly series on My Pretty Pennies. To participate, go check out Ginna’s blog!

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