Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pistachio Poundcake

I'm cheating today and posting this on both of my blogs (it's too good not to share everywhere!).

For our office's Thanksgiving "Feast," I volunteered to bring pistachio pound cake. I feel it sounds more complicated than it was, as I prepared a pound cake as directed then just added a teeny little splash (about half a teaspoon or less) of pistachio extract* and four regular drops of green food coloring into the mix. Also, this wasn't just any pound cake recipe; this was my grandmother's pound cake recipe and my very first time attempting a pound cake! I even went out and bought a flour sifter so I could execute the recipe exactly right.

Pistachio flavor included or not, I was impressed with the outcome! The pound cake crust was perfect and the overall texture and level of moistness were right on.

Without further adieu, my grandmother's sour cream pound cake recipe!


  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the sour cream and mix until incorporated. Sift the baking soda and flour together. Add to the creamed mixture alternating with eggs, beating each egg 1 at a time. Add the vanilla and pour the mixture into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes.

*I bought pistachio extract from King Arthur Flour for $6.95 plus shipping. I seriously warn you (SERIOUSLY!) to proceed with caution when using pistachio extract. It's INCREDIBLY potent. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dining Room Table Via Underpriced Furniture

Our weekend mission: find a functional, affordable and color appropriate dining room table for our smallish living room.

Friday night, I was eager to visit our first target store, Cost Plus World Market, only to be a little disappointed. Loved the store and the style of—wasn't head-over-heels for the dining room table I'd seen in the previous weekend's Sunday paper. The Chemia table was a little more "country" than our tastes and didn't seem terribly durable. The price was almost right (somewhere around $750) but the quality of the wood didn't feel quite right to us, and we also thought we could find a look that was more "us." 

A quick stop by American Signature Furniture yielded similar results. We headed home, empty-handed, not that we would have been able to fit a table and six chairs in the Saab. 

Saturday was mostly spent helping my younger brother move. But it was just our luck that he rented a Uhaul for the day, needing to return it mid-Sunday morning. After finishing moving him around 3 or 3:30 that afternoon, we decided to take advantage of said "free" Uhaul. 

Our destination: Underpriced Furniture*. We'd been there once before on a hunt for a book case. And a book case we found! We picked up an espresso-colored floor-to-ceiling (the same as Haverty's advertises except for without the name branded on the bottom and without the Haverty's pricetag). Our bookcase set us back a bragworthy $220. Knowing we passed by some sharp-looking dining room tables during our visit a year before, we thought the Norcross-based furniture vendor was worth a shot.

The night before, Dan and I discussed how fabric cushions can be annoying to clean—and a major pain to replace. He wasn't sold on seats without built-in cushions because they just didn't seem as comfortable. 

Underpriced had a few tables that fit our bill. We decided on an espresso/cherry-colored table with a leaf. Without its leaf, the table is your standard rectangular table. The leaf, however, goes in lengthwise, giving you a large, square-shaped table. The chairs have built-in black leather cushions, a perfectly happy medium for what Dan and I discussed. 

Since our choice table was out of stock, we went home with the floor model and all six of its available chairs. The table was on sale for $699, including four chairs (with each additional chair costing $74)—so about $847. Dan asked if we could get a little bit of a discount since we bought the floor model. The salesperson rather quickly conceded, giving us the the equivalent of one "free" chair in our final price (about $773 total). 

We enjoyed dinner with visiting family on the new table that night. I think we'll be back to grab two more chairs since the square-shaped configuration allows for 8 chairs comfortably.

LOVE our new table!

*Web site isn't all that great or accurate with what's available in the store, so I suggest you make the trek up to Interstate 85 North's Jimmy Carter exit to check out what they have in-store. 

Craig's List Haircut Update

So, this past weekend was my Craig's List haircut and hair color.

I showed up to Verrilli Hair Studio on Sunday afternoon, not sure what to expect. I was told to look out for 1151 Hammond Drive (near Perimeter Mall) then for Salon Studios on the second floor. 

A spunky, little, redheaded lady greeted me as I entered the building. She introduced herself as Mary. Walking me back to her little 1oo by 100 square feet studio, she explained the concept behind Salon Studios. An entrepreneur took a large retail space and turned it into 32 individual "mini" salons. Each unit comes standard with neutrally painted walls, a shampoo bowl, a cutting station and a chair. Tenants pay $260 a week to use the space. This is the second Salon Studios (with the other in Roswell). The setup sounds like a great way to encourage stylists* to have their own businesses without having to build their own studios.

I would be lying to you if I said that Mary's age (probably just shy of 60, judging off the year she went to cosmetology school—1969) didn't make me a little nervous at first. Sure, she was hip looking and very friendly, but did she know how to cut hair every way from the traditional to the more modern? I was, after all, looking for someone with great training and versatility. 

Mary impressed me! She mixed up containers of a lowlight (using a product called Color Sync) and a highlight (using Redken products) and foiled my head like a pro. She used natural-looking colors and appropriate ratios of highlight to lowlight. After rinsing out my hair, Mary treated me to some Redken hair glaze (a shiny gloss that should stay on my hair for about six weeks). In between bouts of shampooing, she told me how much she enjoys staying up with trends and taking hair classes. "If someone comes in and asks me to give them a faux hawk," Mary said, "I need to make sure I know how to give them a faux hawk."

Admitting herself that she's borderline obsessive, Mary trimmed my hair with great precision. She told me that my previous haircut had very unblended layers and looked chopping. She stopped multiple times throughout the process to check the evenness of the pieces on the left and right sides of my part. All along the way, Mary told me how much she loves cutting hair and feels like she enjoys it as much as her clients do. Not ever wanting to send someone home "unfinished," she blew my hair dry and completed my "do" with a ceramic flat iron. 

And just as I was told via e-mail, my total was a fantastic $96 (I tipped $25 on top of that). This price included a 20% discount, as explained in the Craig's List ad, so the services (partial lowlight, highlight, cut and style) will be $120 total moving forward. I think I'll be back!

Verrilli Hair Studio

*A few of the stations are occupied by non-hair stylists. I saw an organic makeup, bath products and candles vendor as well as a little shop that does manicures and pedicures.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Great CNN Article

CNN published a helpful article today titled "Five Ways to Stay Fabulous on a Budget."

Check it out here

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Camera Arrived!

Just in time for a quick weekend trip to visit the inlaws, our new camera arrived! It's exactly what I ordered and arrived in a mere two days. Thank you, Buy Dig, for not giving me the runaround.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fingers Crossed (Great and Affordable Stylist?)

I've been struggling a little to find the ideal hair stylist. "Ideal" for me would be defined by flexible hours, reasonable commute, affordable prices, beyond satisfactory work and reliability.

I was a regular at Van Michael's New Talents group for more than a year but was becoming less impressed with my hair color gal as she became more "experienced" and her rates went up. (My standard "order" (color-wise) is partial highlights and lowlights.) I'm still a technical blonde—but I was starting to feel like I had "roots" just a few weeks after coming in. The color job alone there was running me $100 (plus tip), which isn't bad, but I felt I could do better in the quality department. I've used a friend of mine's sister before, who did an excellent job, but she isn't always available and hasn't decided until recently if she's going to stay in metro Atlanta. 

Haircuts, I've been oddly less picky about. I haven't had a serious haircut in years, as I've stuck to trims. But someone talented enough to do both haircuts and color would be a great bonus.

The other night, I was browsing Craig's List and decided to look for hair services. It would be great to find someone looking for clients that fit my idea of a great stylist. I found the following listing:

20% off cut and color / highlights! (Dunwoody / Sandy Springs)

Reply to: [?]
Date: 2008-11-04, 11:34AM EST

That's only $80 for a cut and color, and $88-112 for highlights! I have over 30 years experience. I am a master stylist and color specialist. If you're looking for an excellent hair stylist, look no further! You will love your hair! 

No hidden surprises, that price includes shampoo, conditioner, blow dry, flat iron and curls. 

Call Mary at (770) 361-3557 to schedule a consultation at my private studio conveniently located near the perimeter mall!

I e-mailed Mary about her pricing after this discounted initial run. After all, I thought it would be unfair to her if I used her for the inexpensive services once but never returned due to a high price hike—especially if she's trying to build her clientele. Her son responded, saying it would be about $96 for my first time having a cut and partial highlights/lowlights, then $120 moving forward. I think this is a really competitive price. 

I gave Mary a call on my way home from work. She sounds eager to please and thrilled to be given a chance. My appointment is next Sunday at noon. Maybe this will be a flop—or maybe I will have found someone I can recommend to my friends. 

Spoke Too Soon (and Almost Was Scammed!)

(photo from Cnet)

Okay, I'll admit it. I spoke too soon about TECHON Digital. 

When I made my order and filled out my customer profile, I accidentally mixed up the "a" and "i" in gmail when I typed in my e-mail address. Despite it being frustrating to not be able to "edit my e-mail address" on TECHON's user information page, I didn't think this was a big deal. I did, however, e-mail the customer support e-mail address to ask them to change my e-mail address in their records. I didn't get a response. 

I will also be the first to admit that I sometimes will be tolerable of nuisances if it means I'm getting a really great deal (examples: a poorly organized web site or physical store, bad customer service, etc.). 

Yesterday, while standing in line at the post office, I got a call from a TECHON representative, saying they'd been trying to e-mail me to confirm my order. I said I would be happy to confirm it over the phone—and mentioned that I tried to correct my e-mail address online but their site didn't have the functionality allowing me to do so. The rep tried to upsell me a few different things, including a lifetime battery, but I declined. Then the call was dropped (I believe on their end, not mine).

I called back. The representative to answer the phone could have cared less about my dropped call and said he couldn't help me without my order number. I vowed to call back when I was in front of my computer, which ended up being this morning since their customer service office closed before I made it home yesterday.

The representative who took my call this morning picked up the phone with a rather perturbed-sounding, "Yeah?" I explained my situation (again), only to have him respond that the camera I wanted was out of stock. I thought this was odd, since it sounded like it was in stock yesterday. I mentioned this aloud as well.

I picked out a similar camera and inquired about it. The "gentleman" tried to upsell me with batteries and a nice carrying case. I declined. Then he told me that the camera was out of stock, but I could buy the battery and carrying case but get the camera elsewhere. This was becoming annoying. 

From there, I looked through the online inventory a little more to see if they had any similar cameras in stock. I asked about two different ones, including the exact camera I misplaced/lost/whatever during our travels. When those searches yielded zilch results, I asked, "do you have ANY other cameras in that price range?"

"No, we don't have any cameras in that price range," was the dude's response.

Forget it, TECHON Digital. Seriously?

So, I navigated my way over to Buy Dig and found the same camera we had pre-Italy trip (except in blue, you know, to mix things up a little). That set me/us back $162 but included free shipping. I received a prompt confirmation e-mail... and I'm crossing my fingers this round of camera shopping works out a little better for us. 

UPDATE. Dan e-mailed me the following, so I filed a Better Business Bureau complaint: "Couldn’t add a comment on your page without logging in but here it is - Report them.  A number of others have... "

Also, this link has a slew of other consumers complaining about the company. Several others found that when they declined the fancy battery or add-ons that their cameras were mysteriously "not in stock." Scam! I can't believe they almost got me!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

New Camera Ordered!

So, tonight we ordered a new camera to replace the one eaten by Air India.

I did some comparison shopping online and found that the 8MP Canon Powersho SD1100 ELPH camera we had before was $164 on Amazon and $199 on Target. Dan put a good deal of research into choosing that camera, and we enjoyed it for two months or so and during our honeymoon. While looking for a replacement, I found the camera also on TECHON Digital for even less—$139 plus shipping. 

While browsing, I saw that a few other similarly-priced cameras had a few more options (a slightly better zoom and a better preview screen as examples). I'm no pro photographer, but these seemed like fine enough things to buy for just 10 more dollars. I'll pick up an inexpensive case at Target.

So, we purchased this Canon Powershot SD870 digital ELPH camera (also 8MP) for $149 (goes for $216 on Amazon). If you're looking for an electronic for yourself or someone else, I suggest you check out this site. The camera prices seem they would be hard to beat.

Also, I'm not sure how long they'll be running the special for, but Target is offering a Lexar 4GB SD memory card for just $22.99, down from the usual price of $39.99. I used one of our Target gift cards to snag that.

Our new plan is for Dan to eventually get a camera as well so we can both take photographs on trips... and likely not lose both cameras. Also, I've made a very important "note to self" to leave my name, phone number and address in the camera case. 

I look forward to posting my final positive reviews after it arrives!