Awesome in July

July has been an extremely difficult month for us. We’ve had thousands of dollars in extra expenses this year, and not enough work to go around. But this blog is all about keeping it awesome even when the money is tight. We did manage to experience some super awesome stuff in July, all made even better by the very special human we got to share it with.

Kiss My Grits

Awesomest way to get your Southern food fix in the middle of the ocean: Kiss My Grits

I think my new favorite restaurant in Honolulu is Kiss My Grits on University Ave. in Puck’s Alley. I lived in the South for 12 years, and I learned to love a good biscuit, salty ham, and hushpuppies that will still burn your fingers. Kiss My Grits serves all this and more. I’ve been there twice now, and I still need to go back several more times to try all the things I want to check out on their menu. Except for the things that swim, I pretty much want to try everything on the menu. I also love the bottomless mason jar of sweet tea. So far, I’ve tried two of their cat’s head biscuit sandwiches (as in, biscuits as big as a cat’s head.) They were both a perfect blend of Southern flavors made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. And I didn’t manage to finish either one. It’s not Southern food if you don’t leave the table feeling like you might slip into a coma.


Awesomest way to see a city destroyed: Pacific Rim

We saw Pacific Rim on $6 movie day, and I think I have a new favorite summer movie. The spectacle of giant sea monsters and giant robots smashing up cities is something you must see on the big screen. This film does a great job of cutting through all the convoluted exposition and blending story and action. They use a great narrative voiceover to keep the story moving forward, and they let the subtext speak for itself without having to make every feeling explicit. Also, there’s Idris Elba. If you just said “Who’s Idris Elba?” you need to rush to your Netflix and watch Luther and become a huge fan. Run out and see Pacific Rim right this minute.


Awesomest book to fill you with righteous anger: Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

This month, I read Two or Three Things I Know For Surea memoir by the brilliant Dorothy Allison. I’ve also read her beautiful and tragic novel Bastard Out of Carolina. Both of these books were heartbreaking and beautiful. They deal with the difficult subject of sexual abuse of a child. Bastard Out of Carolina is told from the point of view of the child whose courage is remarkable. If you haven’t read anything by Dorothy Allison, please give her work a try. It’s powerful and difficult and necessary. 


Awesomest kid on the planet

I got to spend the month of July with my baby who is about to become a teenager in just 11 days and is nearly as tall as me. It’s a bit difficult to grasp. I love every moment that she gets to spend with us, which is never enough. We played silly games, had Uno tournaments, took funny and artsy photos all over the island, cooked together, read together, and hugged a lot. My baby is the super awesomest and I can’t wait until she’s back for Christmas. 

Things you found awesome

You were super stoked about double chocolate muffins.

You also love to spice things up with bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers.

And mostly, you love to feed your feathered friends with this DIY chicken feeder.

Exciting things are coming our way in August. I’m not sure what they are yet, but I know it’s gonna be awesome!

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Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars from Awesome on 20

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars from Awesome on 20

My husband is crazy for caramel. He also insists that the word be pronounced with three syllables. Saying KAR-MUL is practically a sin in this house. He’s very particular about that.

It also has to be football, never ever soccer.

Three meals a day? Breakfast, dinner, tea. It gets a bit confusing sometimes.

It took me months to learn the difference between the washing and the washing up. One’s laundry and one’s dishes. Why can’t they use different words for different things?

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars from Awesome on 20

Luckily, cheesecake is a language we both speak. These caramel swirl cheesecake bars live on a buttery shortbread crust and are run through with sweet sticky salted caramel sauce. I love it because it’s delicious, duh, but also because it’s much easier to transport and serve than a regular cheesecake.We brought this to Geoff’s birthday party, and everybody loved it. And I made the whole thing for what it would have cost to buy one dessert at a restaurant.

This recipe is slightly simplified from the brilliant Shauna of Piece of Cake. Everything she does is beautiful.

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars from Awesome on 20

No matter what version of English you speak, I think we call all agree that caramel swirl cheesecake bars are totally awesome.

Photos by Monica Szczupider

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars
Serves 20
Creamy cheesecake bars swirled with caramel on a shortbread crust
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
45 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
45 min
For the crust
  1. 14 tablespoons butter, melted
  2. 1/2 cup sugar
  3. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  4. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  5. 2 cups flour
For the cheesecake
  1. 1-1/2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
  2. 6 tablespoons sugar
  3. 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  4. 2 eggs
  5. 1/2 cup salted caramel sauce (if you just have regular caramel sauce, just add salt.)
For the crust
  1. Position a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 350. Cover a 9x13 inch baking pan with foil. Do your best to tuck it in smoothly in the corners and fold the extra over the side. (I'm terrible at this.)
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add in the flour and mix until just combined. Your mixture will probably be very buttery. This is awesome.
  3. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan. I like to use a bit of wax paper to keep the dough from sticking to my hands. This helps make a smoother layer.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes. The edges will be slightly brown, but the center will still be pale. Pop it on a rack to cool.
For the cheesecake
  1. Reduce your oven temp to 325.
  2. If you have an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese for a few minutes to smooth it out. If not, this will count as your workout of the day.
  3. Beat in the sugar and vanilla, then add the eggs one at a time.
  4. Scrape down the sides of your bowl and then give everything one good last mix to make sure it's all smooth and lovely.
  5. Pour the cheesecake batter over your cooled crust. Plop small spoonfuls of caramel throughout the batter. Using a butter knife, carefully swirl your caramel over the surface of the cheesecake batter. Be careful not to scrape the crust with your knife.
  6. Bake for 20-30 minutes. The cheesecake will still be ever so slightly wobbly in the center.
  7. Let your cheesecake cool to room temperature on a rack, then transfer it to the fridge to chill for at least four hours, overnight is better.
  8. Cut into rectangles and store in the fridge in an airtight container, if you can make them last that long.
Adapted from Shauna Sever @ Piece of Cake
Check us out at Chef in Training's link party
Check us out at Chef in Training’s link party
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The Rule of Second Cheapest

Feeding and entertaining three people on $28 a day is proving to be pretty damn challenging. Every penny counts. Luckily, I have a few tricks up my sleeve the make those precious few dollars stretch a tiny bit further without feeling like everything you pick up is the worst thing ever. They’re probably terribly obvious, but hey, you can’t think of everything.


The rule of second cheapest

We’ve been following the rule of second cheapest for a few years now. This basically means that when you’re making selections at the grocery store on something where quality counts, things like olive oil or peanut butter, we allow ourselves to buy the second cheapest. It’s not the pricy stuff, but if you stay away from the absolute bottom of the barrel, there’s a better chance that you won’t get something that actually tastes of generic. Sometimes if you buy the cheapest thing on the shelf, it ends up tasting so bad you don’t want to eat it anyway, which defeats the purpose of food. I don’t want to spend money on something I’m not going to enjoy. The fifty cents is usually worth it. Sure, you can’t afford the really expensive high quality chocolate, but you don’t have to buy the absolute worst one, either.

Bulk is the baker’s friend

I don’t buy in bulk very much, partly because I don’t have a lot of space to store 48 cans of black beans, and partly because I don’t ever know what I’m going to want to cook from one day to the next. I do, however, save a lot of money by stocking up on baking staples, especially butter, cream cheese, sugar, and chocolate chips. The butter and cream cheese can be frozen until you need them, and by weight, you end up spending sometimes half as much. I can’t get a bag of flour at my Costco in anything smaller than a 50 pound bag, and where the hell am I supposed to put that? But I have also bought vanilla, brown sugar, and berries there and saved a bunch of money. 

When shopping in a foreign country, just buy the item with the funniest name.
When shopping in a foreign country, just buy the item with the funniest name.

Take the time to go online

We live practically next door to Safeway, and we go there at least once a day. Safeway has one of those annoying club cards, but what makes it worthwhile is Just for U. If you go to their website and register your card, you can have even more coupons and discounts automatically loaded onto your card. You don’t have to clip coupons and remember to take them to the store. And since your club card tracks what you buy, a lot of the deals are targeted at things you actually want. I’ve gotten some pretty great deals when I actually remember to go online and load up my card. It’s totally worth it. Check your neighborhood store and see if they have something similar.

Grocery shopping can be such a drag, especially buying things like toilet paper. What a drag. But if you save enough on the boring stuff, maybe you can afford to buy some ice cream. Ice cream never lets you down.

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