Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Money Diary: Typical-ish Week Back in the Office, Part Two

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And here's part two of my 2021 money diary from a fairly typical week since I was required to return to the office full-time!

On this Monday morning, I decide to grab an iced skim latte for $5.80 including tip from a coffee shop that's part of another small local chain, a different one from Friday. There are a ton of independent coffee shops in the vicinity of my office, and many of my colleagues and I each have our own personal favorites, with little overlap. I myself have three different shops I frequent in the neighborhood.  

For lunch, I get the same custom vegetarian - but not vegan - salad from Sweetgreen as I did last Friday, with kale, baby spinach, chopped tomatoes, chopped red onion, spicy cooked broccoli, boiled chickpeas, cooked portobello mushrooms, and burrata. The total is, once again, $14.64

Spoiler alert, I end up getting this exact same lunch two more times this week, which may make me sound very boring. While I'm definitely not a picky eater and I enjoy a wide variety of foods and cuisines when dining out or ordering delivery, my natural tendency when picking up weekday lunches or cooking meals is to repeat the same small number of dishes in rotation. So I'll cook things like the Dutch baby pancake or mapo tofu from part one of this money diary - and other favorite dishes - around once every two weeks.

On my way back to the office with lunch, I also decide to pick up a chocolate croissant and a fruit and cream pastry to bring home and share with K, from a bakery that just opened across the street from my workplace. That total comes out to $13.52 including tip. In the times when I'm regularly going to the office, I get inspired to buy treats - a slice of cake or pastry for each of us - to bring home maybe once a month or so.

It's another fairly uneventful day at the office, so I'm able to get home by 6:00 P.M. For dinner tonight, I make seared hanger steak, roasted potatoes, and sautéed broccoli. While I mentioned that I wasn't sold on using our cast iron skillet for the Dutch baby, one thing the cast iron skillet is undeniably really great for is searing meat. Because hanger steak comes in fairly thick pieces, I finish cooking it in the oven after searing the outside.

After dinner, we watch the Olympics primetime broadcast - even though it's not great for following any particular sport, really - and we share the chocolate croissant and pastry I bought. K is a pretty big sports fan and there are quite a few sports - including rugby sevens and basketball - he followed throughout the Olympics by watching the live online streams, even if it often meant waking up unusually early or staying up extremely late. The only Olympic sport I followed that closely was women's artistic gymnastics, I watched team qualifications, team finals, and the all-around finals in real time. 

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Because the Olympic primetime broadcast is not that exciting, I'm only half paying attention and am also using my computer to browse the web. I put together a grocery delivery order from Freshdirect, scheduled for Wednesday. The bill won't be finalized until the day of the delivery, so I won't log it until then, but this order will be ~$120.00, including a $7.00 tip (there's no added delivery fee because we paid for a year's DeliveryPass subscription back in January). This gets us roughly a week and a half's worth of food: two dozen eggs; a gallon of milk; salmon filets for two; baby back ribs; breakfast sausage; a few lemons; vegetables for roughly a week and a half's dinners; sandwich ingredients for K to make lunch while I'm at work; and guacamole, shredded cheese, and tortillas to make tacos. 

This morning, I make my coffee at home, adding frothed milk from our Nespresso Aeroccino 4 to make it sort of a homemade "latte." K and I continue to use the Aeroccino 4 frequently, pretty much once a day between the two of us. It continues to work well, reliably attaining a fairly impressive amount of milk foam on the "extra hot foam" setting while also being easy to clean. Though when I put my homemade "latte" in a travel mug and take it with me to the office, all the foam pretty much deflates from being shaken around in the mug while I'm walking, hah. 

Lunch today is the same vegetarian Sweetgreen salad with burrata, for $14.64 again. Once in a long while, I'll decide to get the kale caesar with chicken instead, but only if I'm really craving it. My new salad has a much better variety of vegetables, the Sweetgreen kale caesar only has the kale and romaine base and some chopped cherry tomatoes. 

While I'm at work, K decides to go to Trader Joe's. These days, we generally get our grocery staples delivered from Freshdirect (two to three times/month) or Southeast Asia Food Group ("SAFG") (once every month and a half or so). Outside of that, K will also go to Trader Joe's maybe once a month for certain items that aren't available from other grocery stores or delivery services. At Trader Joe's, K mostly gets frozen food (we really like Trader Joe's orange chicken, galbi, and hash brown patties, among other things); some packaged, pre-cooked meats (there's a fully-cooked pork belly we slice up for okonomiyaki and the carnitas are good for tacos); snacks; and some other odds and ends. Today's bill comes out to $89.00, which we'll split 50-50, so my share is $44.50.

After I get home from the office, I work out on the stationary bike for roughly 50 minutes. Pre-pandemic, I generally did my weekday workouts quite late in the evening, after eating dinner. But since returning to the office this year, I always work out right after work. If I waited until after dinner these days, I think I'd definitely become too tired and would just skip the workout entirely. 

For dinner tonight, we're reheating the leftover mapo tofu and rice from Sunday and the leftover broccoli from yesterday. After dinner, K has the Olympics primetime broadcast on again. 

For this morning's coffee, I decide to have the free coffee at the office, pretty much for the first time since I started going back in this year. I'm promptly reminded about why I usually opt to buy a latte from a coffee shop or to make my coffee at home, I really don't like the taste of the coffee from the communal coffee pot at work. They use ground coffee from Starbucks, but I'm not sure which kind, and either way, I've never really liked it. (There's also an espresso machine in the pantry that can make some drinks with hot milk and milk foam. Next time I decide to get office coffee, I'll probably go back to using that instead. But lattes or cappuccinos from coffee shops definitely taste better than what our office espresso machine can make.)

Today is the one day this week I don't go to Sweetgreen. Instead, I head to Chipotle for a salad with steak, which comes out to $11.54. When I'm feeling really really indulgent, I get the steak salad at Chipotle with added guacamole, which then costs a much fancier $14.53. 

Things continue to be fairly quiet at the office this week. In the mid-afternoon, I head out for a quick stop at the Duane Reade across the street to replenish the snacks I keep in my desk drawer. During the workday, I generally snack on one to two squares of dark chocolate every afternoon, mostly from Lindt or Ghirardelli chocolate bars. Today, I buy two Ghirardelli bars for $8.11 including tax. 

Back in pre-pandemic days, I would generally also have some other candy around, and maybe also a package of cookies. But given my recent health and fitness goals, I'm trying to cut out the other sweets at my desk besides the dark chocolate. Later on, after I got the braces, I was also instructed to not eat any hard candy or anything sticky, such as caramel or toffee.

Our Freshdirect order is delivered around 5:00 PM, a while before I get home, so K puts all the groceries away. The total came out to $123.68. As with K's Trader Joe's purchase yesterday, we split groceries 50-50 and so my share is $62.84.

After I get home, I do another stationary bike workout for roughly 45 minutes. After I finish with the cardio portion, I also do a few strength-oriented exercises: some squats, elbow planks, crunches, and some pilates moves. It isn't a very long sequence of strength exercises, I think I'll need to eventually hire a personal trainer or go out to do a class to really start doing a more rigorous and regular strength routine. I'm currently not feeling that comfortable COVID-wise with the idea of going to indoor exercise classes, however.  

Dinner tonight includes salmon filets, corn on the cob, and bok choy from our Freshdirect order. I cook the salmon filets in the oven after seasoning with rice wine, salt, Penzey's Jerk chicken and fish seasoning, and some butter. I stir-fry the bok choy with some garlic and add some oyster sauce. For the corn on the cob, I cook them in boiling water with a bit of sugar mixed in for 10 minutes. All told, it's a fairly easy meal to make!

During the cooking process, I encounter a minor mishap. Our large nylon kitchen tongs - the same ones I've had since law school and which I complained about earlier this year - had broken in the past month. One of the screws started coming out and got bent out of shape, so we couldn't fix it, and the tongs weren't really gripping on to things tightly anymore. Despite my complaints about those old tongs in January, I hadn't yet directly replaced them, I only bought an additional set of smaller 8'' tongs at the time. While using the large nylon tongs to pick up the cooked corn on the cob, the corn slipped out of the tongs, causing some hot water to splash on my arm. It wasn't a big deal, I barely even needed to run cold water over it, but I definitely took it as a sign that it's absolutely time to replace those old tongs.

After dinner, I browse online and decide to buy these 12'' silicone-tipped tongs from Sur La Table. There's no way I need enough other items to get to the free shipping threshold, so I pay $22.30 total including tax and $5.99 shipping. This is the sort of household item K and I also split 50-50, so my share is $11.15. These won't arrive for a while, but once they do, I quickly realize I like the Tovolo brand silicone tip tongs I bought in the 8'' size in January better than the Sur La Table ones, the Tovolo tongs feel sturdier and just a bit more maneuverable. But I think the Sur La Table ones are still functional and reasonably durable. 

Today's another make my own coffee at home day. I've only gone to a coffee shop twice this week, and that's in line with my average since I returned to the office full-time. This means I'm currently spending ~$45 to $50/month on coffee shops since going back full-time in July. 

As I mentioned on Monday, lunch is the exact same Sweetgreen salad again today. That's another $14.64

Things often feel even more quiet at the office on Fridays, especially in the summer. Everyone's eager to get home for the weekend, and some of my colleagues do leave the city on the weekends. Thus, I'm able to get out the door right around 5:00 P.M. 

Once I'm home, I do another stationary bike workout, for roughly 50 minutes. Since I've worked out for three days in a row now, I'll rest tomorrow. 

Dinner tonight is leftover okonomiyaki from the freezer. I use Adam Liaw's recipe for this dish, with some slight modifications. We omit shrimp, but use a slightly larger quantity of pork, and we also omit the tenkasu - crunchy tempura batter bits - because SAFG only sells it in way too large a package. That recipe yields four quite large and filling okonomiyaki, and K and I each eat one and then we freeze the rest for a future meal. 

Because the okonomiyaki are fairly large and thick, it takes a long time to heat up in the oven, around 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Towards the end of the 45 minutes, I chop up some green onion to use as a topping. After the okonomiyaki are reheated enough, I top each with katsu sauce using a silicone pastry brush - we're also not able to order a small enough container of okonomi sauce from SAFG, so we use the katsu sauce instead - and we each add Kewpie mayo, the green onions, and some dried bonito flakes. 

Normally, we'd watch a TV show or movie on Netflix, but because the Olympics are still going on, we have that on the television instead. 

And that's it for my 2021 money diary from a fairly typical week since I returned to the office full-time! Whew, I think this week may have been on the more boring side of any of the weeks I've ever documented in my money diaries posts. It's not the only time I ate lunch from Sweetgreen most of the week, but it's probably the first money diary where K and I didn't go anywhere for fun on the weekends or in the evenings. 

Although K and I have been reasonably comfortable with dining in at restaurants since we passed two weeks after our second doses of the COVID vaccine, we only really go out once a week at most. We've also skipped going out quite a few weeks in the months since, opting to order delivery instead. I don't personally mind being a homebody and relaxing at home all weekend more often than not - K doesn't really mind it either, and I think that's a big part of why we didn't have that hard a time with COVID social distancing all last year, it didn't get really mentally difficult for us until early 2021 - though sometimes I think other people, especially my work colleagues, find our habits strange when we make small talk about our weekends. 

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