SNAP Challenge 2019 Day 1

Start with the SNAP Challenge 2019 Introduction

9:07 AM Eric woke up earlier so he made some breakfast – Sausage Veggie Rice Bowl
1 cup rice ($0.60) + 2 pork sausages ($0.90) + 1/3 bag of you-choy ($0.71) = $2.21 total

1:05 PM Right before going to play football, Eric had a snack – 1 banana = $0.25

I woke up later and after grocery shopping, taking pictures, and calculating costs of each item… it was already 1:30 PM.

1:30 PM I made Soft Scramble Toast w/ Mushrooms for lunch
1 slice of bread ($0.09), 2 eggs ($0.20), 1 tb butter ($0.10), 1 tb sour cream ($0.07), 1/4 pk of mushrooms ($0.45) = $0.91 total

After Eric got back from football, we both made our respective dinners

Eric made Beef Noodle Soup
Noodles ($0.60) + 1/2 package flap meat ($4.98) + 1/3 bag of you-choy ($0.72) + 1 egg ($0.10) = $6.40

I made Baked Spaghetti w/ Meat Sauce
1/2 bag spaghetti ($0.50) + 1 jar tomato sauce ($1.79) + 1 onion ($1.35) + 1/2 pack ground meat ($2.00) + 1/3 Cheddar cheese ($1.00) = $6.64 for the whole dish.

I ate 1/3 of the baked spaghetti for dinner so that’s $2.22 and had another Sparkling Water ($0.50)


Eric’s DAILY TOTAL: $8.86
Thoughts: I went over budget today. I used too much meat in one meal, I could have had 1/2 of that but it tasted really good after football. I’ll have to be more careful moving forward.

Jenny’s DAILY TOTAL: $4.13
Thoughts: I am not eating as healthy as I should and my sparkling water addiction is definitely cutting into my budget. I also didn’t do much today other than some household chores and a few work emails. But, I did pack some spaghetti for $2.22 lunch on Tuesday so I call that a win!

SNAP Challenge 2019 Begins

Start with the SNAP Challenge 2019 Introduction

Eric and I went shopping today and this is what we got…

Eric’s spend: $40.62

Jenny’s spend: $44.76

Okay… so right off the bat, I have almost overspent my weekly budget. BUT keep in mind that we will calculate based on the items used since we are going off the assumption that the items will continue to be used throughout the month. There’s a bag of potatoes I forgot to include in the picture but it’s included in the price. As you can see, I’m a sucker for variety and condiments!

On that same note, Eric is hoping to treat himself to KFC on the last day (Saturday) so he will be using his food items with intention, and may not use all the items he purchased. He really had to think before picking up that $3.49 can of SPAM. Also, although he was tempted by some jams and sauces at TJ’s, he stuck to his guns. He’s pretty much going to sustain on a rotating menu of meat (lap cheung, spam, flap meat), veggies, and rice.. with occasional scrambled eggs and noodle soup. Variety is not as big a thing for him and he’s going into this challenge with utmost confidence that he can easily last a month!

SNAP Challenge 2019

September is hunger action month. In addition to donations to the food bank… starting today, Sept 1st, Eric and I will be doing the SNAP challenge… where we attempt to survive one-week on a Calfresh/food stamps budget.

Here are the ground rules we will be abiding by:

  • The budget will include all food, drinks, and snacks for one week.
  • Other than salt, sugar, and oil… all other spices, sauces, and pantry items are off limits. If we want to use it, we must “buy” it.
  • Shopping can only take place at stores that accept Calfresh/food stamps.
  • No freebies. That includes food at work or friends offering to buy us something.

Some important things to note:

  • We will be using the maximum benefit for a single individual in California, which is $192 per month. Divide that by 30 days = $6.40/day which = $44.80 a week. $44.80 is our weekly budget.
  • Eric and I will be shopping, cooking, and eating our own meals for the whole week to simulate the experience of a one person household (very real for the elderly). Everything we consume will be tracked and documented.
  • We do have some items that should be used up at home already so, in order to prevent waste, we will use them and include that into our weekly budget based on the current price at the grocery store.
  • Some items come in larger quantities than is needed for a week (ex: package of butter has 6 sticks). Theoretically, the butter will continue to be used throughout the month so we will calculate the cost in our weekly budget accordingly.

We completely understand that this challenge, in no means, is similar to the experience of people who are actually living on Calfresh/food stamps with no end in sight. One week is not a lot of time. We have the privilege of knowing when the challenge will end. This means we don’t have to worry about nutritional value or long term health consequences in our diet. Without typical family obligations, we have the time and energy to menu plan and meal prep. We do not work manual labor jobs and have the luxury to chill and relax when our energy is low. We have a car and gas to go shop where we please. We have a variety of cooking tools and gadgets at our disposal. The list goes on. But, having done this challenge myself before, I want to say that there are some valuable learning lessons. Eric and I will be sharing our thoughts here as we go through the week so stay tuned!

Will I get seasick on a cruise?

The number one question for new cruisers: What happens if I get seasick?

It’s legitimate question! Seasickness is not fun. However, you’ll be happy to know that 90% of the time, it’s not a problem at all. Cruise ships are SO BIG that guests barely feel any movement on board during the day. It’s not like sailboats or ferries that you have ridden before. Other than safety, the comfort of passengers on board is the captain’s number one priority. Along with today’s technology, they are able to predict and prevent rough waters. Also, with the ship carrying thousands of people and weighing average over 180,000 tons — so again, the ship is really big so it can withstand some pretty big waves. Most passengers on-board are constantly roaming around, enjoying activities, and eating without noticing a thing.

Here are some tips to avoid letting seasickness ruin your trip:

    1. Pick your itinerary carefully: Not all itineraries are made equal. It does pay off to do some research on where your cruise ship is departing from and typical weather for that route at different times of the year. Weather is unpredictable, so there is never a guarantee, but there are trends to inclement weather. Ships departing from Florida during hurricane season, for example, would be more likely to experience bigger waves. River cruises and Alaska inside routes are more calm than routes in the open Atlantic ocean.
    2. Book a good room location: Mid-ship (both horizontally and vertically). The side-to-side sway and the up and down ‘seesaw’ pitch motion of the ship is minimized in the middle of the boat.
    3. Look outside often: Motion sickness is thought to be caused by conflicting signals in the inner ear, eyes, and sensory receptors. Basically, your eyes are telling your brain that you are not moving but your body (inner ear) is telling your brain that you are moving. When you look outside, your eyes will also see that you are indeed moving. This is where an oceanview or balcony room will come in handy. Balcony rooms are great for people who are prone to seasickness because it provides fresh air and perspective each time they step outside, which helps the body and brain to reprogram.
    4. Preventative Measures: Make sure you get enough rest and water as exhaustion and dehydration will allow you to be more prone to seasickness. There are some natural remedies you can try to alleviate the onset of seasickness, such as ginger, topical oil, and acupuncture points. Ginger can be taken in the form of chewing tablets, candy, liquid (ginger ale), or raw. Topical oil, such as Motioneaze, can be applied behind the ear or stomach. Putting pressure on certain parts of the body, such as right below your wrist, is known to alleviate seasickness. Wristbands, such as Seaband, work best when wore before any seasickness symptoms.
    5. Medications: Oh no, you are really feeling seasick!! Dramamine and Bonine are the two most popular seasickness drugs you can get over the counter. I highly recommend bringing some on the ship, but they are also available on-board from the ship doctor and stores. I think of this as last resort, since medications always have a side effect (non-drowsy is a lie). Although it does help with the unpleasant symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, many people also report feeling lethargic and “not themselves” after taking the medication which prevents them for truly enjoying their vacation.

What’s on Carnival Miracle

As you may know already… Carnival is making its debut in San Francisco with Carnival Miracle in 2020. This is BIG news because it opens up short 4 day cruises to the huge demand of “first time cruisers” The ship is also very kid-friendly for families and perfect for groups of friends looking to get away (such as bachelorette/bachelor parties). Let’s take a look at what Carnival Miracle has to offer:

  • 64 percent of the cabins have a balcony which means it is much cheaper to get a balcony on this ship than most other ships… usually balconies are double the price of an interior room. Having your own private space and being able to sit there staring at the ocean (enjoy room service breakfast) is really relaxing.
  • There are three pools aboard Carnival Miracle, each with a whirlpool and located on Deck 9, plus a kiddie pool on Deck 11 next to the slide. One of the pools has a retractable roof, which means the area can be used in rainy or cold weather. There is also water slides.
  • There is a three-deck large theater that puts on shows every night (singing, dancing, music). Throughout the day, there are many activities like trivia, bingo, karaoke, towel folding classes, cooking classes, dancing classes, etc.
  • A typical sailing on Carnival Miracle is filled with families, making activities and services for kids a top priority. Camp Ocean, the kids facility aboard Carnival Miracle, is located on Deck 5, and is designed for kids age 2 and 11 on each cruise. Children are broken up into three categories, Penguins (age 2 to 5), Stingrays (age 6 to 8) and Sharks (age 9 to 11), and activities are tailored for each age group. It is staffed with childcare professionals and you can either leave your child there or participate in activities together. Watch for other activities around the ship such as Dr.Seuss-a-Palooza parade through the Atrium lobby with Dr. Seuss characters followed by an interactive story-time hosted by the ship’s cruise director, Build-a-Bear Workshops, and Dr.Seuss Green Eggs and Ham special breakfast (extra fee).
  • When a major sports game was played, the TVs at SkyBox Sports Bar would be tuned in so they won’t miss any games. There is also a library (books and board games), casino (extra fee), video arcade (extra fee), and spa (extra fee). Outdoor activities include mini golf, ping pong, basketball, and shuffleboard.
  • The buffet is has several stations opened up to provide various options: A deli station with hot and cold sandwiches, a carving station with a different hunk of meat daily, an Asian station (Chopsticks), a salad bar, a grill with burgers, dogs, grilled chicken breast and a garden burger, and a themed station that changed each day — Caribbean, French, Italian, etc. Located near the pools, Pizza Pirate was open 24 hours, as were the ice cream and frozen yogurt self-serve machines.
  • There will be traditional restaurant seating where you can order as many appetizers, entrees, or desserts you would like!
    • Examples of breakfast: fresh fruits, cold packaged cereals and hot oatmeal, yogurt, bagels with salmon and cream cheese, eggs Benedict, pancakes and Belgian waffles.
    • Examples of lunch: fried calamari, cream of spinach soup, and garden and field greens salad were typical appetizers, with a Philly steak sandwich, chicken parmigiana and salade nicoise for entrees.
    • Examples of dinner appetizers: stuffed mushrooms or butternut squash soup ranging to more exotic items such as spicy alligator fritters and braised ox tongue (identified as “rare finds”), shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, etc.
    • Examples of dinner main courses: a pan-seared basa fillet with a cherry tomato vinaigrette, the roast chicken with herb sausage stuffing, and a filet mignon and short rib combo, salmon fillet, pork chop, chicken breast and a flat iron steak. There is always at least one vegetarian entree available each night (vegetable lasagna, portabello mushrooms filled with spinach and squash)
    • Examples of dinner dessert: Carnival’s famous melting chocolate cake, a choice of ice creams and a cheese or fruit plate; a low-calorie, sugar-free option is also on the dessert menu nightly.
  • You will never go hungry because at any time, there is free room service 24/7
  • There is live music and bars all around the ship (alcohol is extra fee). You can also buy alcohol package for all you can drink (many people do this if they like drinking). One of the special bars they have is called Alchemy Bar: these bartenders are professional cocktail mixologists and you only have to tell them what flavor you like and they will make a perfect drink for you (ex: lavender and gin or strawberry and vodka)
  • At night, the nightclubs open and is similar to the nightclubs in the city for dancing and drinking.

Bookings are open and rooms are already being sold in an alarming rate… it’s so popular that Carnival added two more sailings only weeks after the announcement. Don’t wait, and book your balcony cabin today!

How to Prepare and Eat Artichokes

Someone asked me recently how to prepare and eat artichokes as an appetizer. I do this often but I had a hard time explaining the process using my words and gestures. I am pretty sure this person went home, followed my terrible instructions, and now hates artichokes forever. I will carry that burden of tainting one person’s view of preparing artichokes… but I’m going to try to remedy that by posting a tutorial here for all future artichoke lovers:

  1. Cut about 1/4 off the top of the artichoke and bottom of the artichoke
  2. Using scissors, cut the top of the rest of the petals so there are no more pointy tips
  3.  Wash artichoke thoroughly and squeeze juice of half a lemon into a bowl (optional)
  4. Place artichokes and half squeezed lemon in boiling water with the stem down. After 45 minutes, carefully remove artichoke and place on plate to let cool a few minutes.
  5. Tear off each petal and dip into aioli, melted butter, or any sauce you prefer (if making aioli – add 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon paprika, and 1 clove minced garlic to lemon juice)
  6. Pull each petal through your teeth to strip off the soft white meat. The edible part is ONLY the white area of each petal and the artichoke bottom, also known as the heart (we will get to that later).
  7. Continue taking off each petal and eating the soft white meat until you get to the purplish center.
  8.  Take off all the purple petals (be careful they are sharp!) until you get to the hairy center
  9. Using a spoon, scoop off the hairy center completely to get to the artichoke bottom or “heart” The entire bottom is edible and is the most desirable part.


Disneyland with MaxPass

Eric and I recently went to Disneyland for PIXAR Fest and it was amazing!! I can go on forever about my love for PIXAR but I am here to talk about MaxPass… which improved our Disney experience significantly. It’s an add-on for the Disneyland app that costs $10 per person per day. What you get:

  • PHOTOPASS: Unlimited pictures taken around the park by any cast member, rides, or character meet. The pictures are automatically uploaded onto the app and you can save it on your phone easily or print online. No copyright issues here. We walked around and found plenty of cast members holding cameras and happy to help you pose and snap high quality pictures. This was refreshing compared to our usual selfies and asking strangers to take badly framed picture for us on vacations!
  • FASTPASS: Ability to select your Fastpass on the Disneyland app (instead of walking over to the ride to get the Fastpass in person). Right now, any one can go to the popular rides and pick up a Fastpass that indicates the return time window to come back and skip the line for that ride. With MaxPass, you can be waiting in line for one ride while picking Fastpass for another ride. This add-on saved so much time and walking that it was well worth it!! I usually set an alarm on my phone to alert me when it’s time I can pick another Fastpass.

Pro-tip: Don’t purchase MaxPass with your tickets online with your 3 or 4 day passes because you will be forced to add this onto every day of your trip (even if you don’t need it). Instead, you can download the Disneyland app and purchase MaxPass only on the days you need it (and only for the people who want it). For a family of 4 that does not care about the Fastpass benefit and only wants the pictures, one person needs to purchase the MaxPass. That saves a lot of money!

Even without purchasing MaxPass, I highly recommend downloading the Disneyland app for your trip (works for California Adventure too despite its name). First of all, the maps and show times are listed so you don’t have to carry any paper around (that inevitably gets lost or wet anyways). Secondly, the Disneyland app very clearly states the wait times for each ride (in real time) and also the return time for each Fastpass. This is tremendous information when deciding which ride to go on next and saves a lot of time having to go check the boards in the park. Personally, I would choose a Fastpass for any rides above 60 minute wait while heading over to line up for rides that are under 30 minutes. You can continue to monitor crowds and lines on the app in real time. I have noticed that lines are shorter in the morning before 10AM and also during parade / fireworks time. Note that after selecting one Fastpass, you will be eligible for the next FastPass at the start of your “return time window” or 2 hours later (whichever is earlier).

With some planning, it’s quite possible to finish all the rides in one park in one afternoon, even if you start your day around 10:00 AM (which we did).

Healthy Smoothies for One

Purple Blendjet Portable Blender

So I recently purchased a Blendjet One, which is basically a 12 oz powerful blender that’s portable. I actually saw this on my Facebook ads many times while scrolling through my feeds, but each time I told myself “No, don’t fall into the gimmick. It’s never that good!” I must say, Facebook sure knows how to do targeted advertising. Each time I see the Blendjet ad, I would linger a few seconds longer. I don’t know how Facebook ad tracking works but I imagine it’s something similar to an evil robot calculating (scheming) how many more times it has to show it me the ad before I succumb, cackling each time I linger longer. Well, here we are. Thankfully, this turned out to be a worthy purchase. The Blendjet is light and portable (as promised), seems well-made (locally in Alameda!), and the blender blades are powerful (crushes ice like nothing). Best of all, it’s fairly quiet and recharges quickly any where with USB plug. All in all, I am quite happy with it! So technically, I win, you evil robot!

Naturally, I’ve been researching a ton of healthy smoothie recipes recently. I couldn’t even sleep last night because my head was full of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and dairy possibilities. I am not sure why I was so excited but I guess if I were a superhero and I had a weakness, kitchen gadgets might be it. Anyways… I will share a few recipes I’ve tried so far. For most smoothies, I forgo ice because I use frozen fruit instead (just make sure to have some liquid in there when blending anything frozen including ice). I also try not to add any additional sweeteners like honey or agave unless absolutely necessary. You will notice the same ingredients popping up, that’s because I’m just using whatever is in my fridge and freezer (with a couple of perishable purchases). Each recipe is perfectly portioned for the Blendjet as one serving:

Ultimate Healthy Breakfast Smoothie (adapted from CookingLight)

  • 5 baby spinach leaves
  • ½ cup unsweetened almond milk (blend with spinach first)
  • 1/2 medium banana (fresh or frozen)
  • 5-6 frozen strawberries or mangoes
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter

Beginner’s Luck Green Smoothie (adapted from 100DaysofRealFood)

  • 10 baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup water (blend with spinach first)
  • 5-6 frozen mango
  • 5-6 frozen pineapple
  • 1/2 banana (fresh or frozen)

Strawberry Banana Oatmeal Smoothie (adapted from WhattheFork)

  • 1/4 cup oatmeal (blend this first into powder)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 5-6 frozen strawberries
  • 1/2 banana (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Starbucks Mocha Frappucino Healthy Copycat Smoothie (adapted from WellPlated)

  • 1 cup strong black coffee, chilled
  • 1/2 medium banana (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon honey to taste
  • Ice (as necessary for thickness and consistency)

What’s your favorite smoothie recipe? Post in the comments below!


Let’s talk cruise deposits!

Thinking of going on a cruise?

Refundable cruise deposits are a no-risk option to ensure your vacation goes smoothly. Just make sure you triple-check with your agent that the deposit is fully refundable before final payment date (usually 2-3 months before sail date). At Open Suitcase, we never charge any fees for cancellations or changes.

  1. You get to pick from the best rooms in your price range. Whether you want inside rooms, oceanviews, or balconies… each room type has many categories and lots of rooms to choose from. Simply put, if you reserve a room earlier with the refundable deposit, you will get a larger selection of room choice. Since you are paying the same amount anyways, why not pick a better room that is not under a noisy night club? We will always work with you to pick the best room possible in your price range.
  2. It’s highly likely the cruise will be cheaper when booking earlier. Prices tend to get higher as the sail date comes closer. We also monitor and track prices for you. If there is a sale or if the price of the cruise goes down before final payment date, we adjust it for you. By placing the refundable deposit, you are locking down the lower price and a price guarantee.
  3. There’s a limited amount of 4-person or 5-person cabins, and they are likely to sell out. These are very popular cabins with families and young singles looking for a cheap getaway. It’s cheaper to book only one cabin for 4 rather than two cabins of 2 since the 3rd and 4th guest is heavily discounted (and sometimes free!). But, in addition to the limited amount of 4-person cabins, each floor also has a maximum occupancy due to fire codes. So often times, 4-person rooms are all booked up one or two years in advance. Placing the refundable deposit guarantees 4-person rooms are still available and your plans won’t be foiled.
  4. You are more likely to get your preferred dining time. Most cruise lines have a dining room that offers a main dining and second dining time. Main dining starts between 5:30-6:00 PM and second dining starts between 8:00-8:30 PM. Most travelers prefer main dining time so that usually fills up quickly. Booking your cruise earlier with the refundable cruise deposit means you get to reserve a table in your preferred dining time and avoid eating at a undesirable time.
  5. You have more time to plan! A cruise is not just about the ship. You also have to think about flights, hotels, car rentals, and excursions. The same logic applies that those reservations will be cheaper if you book earlier. Many budget-friendly cruise port hotels book up fast during busy seasons. Excursions do not increase in price, but the popular ones do have a chance to sell out. Once your deposit is made, we can help with recommending flights, car rentals, hotels and excursions. We also place a flight tracker on your cruise dates to monitor airfare prices.
  6. There’s no limited to how many deposits you can make. Not sure which sailing you want to go on? Place deposits on multiple ships and sailings until you figure it out all the details with your family and travel companions. It’s okay, we will remind you well before final payments are due so you can cancel the ones you decide not to go on. Remember we do not charge any fees for changes or cancellations.

When you add it all together, it’s easy to see why cruise deposits are the game changer between a mediocre cruise and an amazing one. Room location, dining time, and fun activities make a big difference. There is no reason NOT to place a refundable deposit on a sailing that you are interested in, and everyone should take advantage of this no-risk investments that cruise lines offer.