Posts by Cassie
So, I’m struggling a bit with one portion of this whole holiday cheer thing.
It may seem petty and silly, but the reason I’m struggling is because I won’t be able to enjoy some of my favorite foods this year. I have a lot of things to be thankful (oh gosh, so many things), but all those blessings don’t negate the fact that I’m bummed that I can’t eat my Mama’s world-famous chocolate chip cookies.
Why are the cookies on the blacklist? Well, I’ve talked about it a little bit, but I’ve had to cut all dairy and soy out of my diet due to an intolerance that JuneBug has (called Milk and Soy Protein Intolerance, or MSPI). When the doctor first mentioned it, I honestly thought the hardest part would be giving up my weekly heavy-on-the-cheese pizzas, but the worst part has been dealing with all the hidden ways soy and dairy sneak into my everyday foods. It’s not just that I can’t have milk or yogurt or tofu or ice cream or edamame, it’s that I have to be a super vigilant label-reader of every single product in the kitchen.
I actually thought I was doing okay with it, but JuneBug’s symptoms kept getting worse, so I took an even harder look at all the items in my kitchen, and I was shocked at how many items I was using that didn’t make the cut (cooking spray, canned tuna, pretzels, crackers, bread). Once I finally realized how many soy and dairy products I was eating and slashed them away, JuneBug started getting better. Which is awesome. And I am so grateful that the key to making my baby girl feel better was a simple switch in my diet, but I’m still sad that I have to skip most of the deliciousness of the holidays.
I think for a lot of families, ours included, holiday celebrations center around food. I know there is a whole push to not tie your emotions to food and to view food as only fuel, but I personally feel like that’s a load of baloney. I think ignoring the emotional component of food is just as dangerous as downing three boxes of Twinkies after a bad day at work. Food is inherently emotional. And ignoring that is just setting yourself up for an unhealthy relationship with food. So, yes, I’m sad I’m going to be missing some of my favorite foods this holiday season. And that’s a perfectly healthy emotion.
Thankfully, there are a few ways I can tweak and adjust some of my holiday favorites and still get to eat them. My Mama made me a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving made with coconut oil and coconut milk. And I’ve already whipped up my first batch of coconut milk eggnog. And dude, it is amazing!
There are two methods for making homemade eggnog—the cooked way and the raw way. The raw way is super easy, quick, and traditional, but it also means you are straight up drinking raw egg yolks. It doesn’t bother me (and never has, I have a very clear memory of my Dad shaking up an entire gallon of raw eggnog in the kitchen at Christmas), but if it does irk you, there are lots of recipes out there for cooked eggnog—mostly they just involved slowly heating the mixture until it’s just warm enough to pasteurize the eggs, but not so much that you get scrambled eggs.
I have a half-gallon-sized Mason jar of this stuff just hanging out in my fridge for whenever I get a hankering for eggnog (or want to use eggnog in a holiday recipe, which happens all the time). I’ll probably still pick up some “regular” nog for my holiday guests, because while this stuff is incredibly delicious, it still tastes like coconut. That’s not a problem for a coconut-lover like me, but it’s not exactly traditional.
This dairy-free version of the classic Christmas drink uses creamy, thick, and rice coconut milk.
- 1-14 ounce can full fat coconut milk
- 2 cups light coconut milk (either from the can or a carton)
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Extra nutmeg for serving
- Combine all ingredients in the basin of a blender. Blend on high until well-combined and frothy. Chill until cold, then serve topped with nutmeg (and maybe with a splash of rum or bourbon for the adults).
Here’s a little holiday week confession for you: I’ll take ham over turkey any day of the week. I know turkey is tradition and everything, but I love ham so much more. I like ham sandwiches and ham ‘n’ beans. I like the way ham is rich and flavorful. And I like that you can plop a ham in the slow cooker and pretty much call it donesies.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, but Cassie, there is no way my slow cooker will hold a ham. And, well, that’s true if you have a small slow cooker. But if you have a larger one (like my six quart one—love this slow cooker), you can absolutely fit a quarter ham with the lid on, and you can even fit a half ham if you make a fake lid with aluminum foil—it works perfectly.
You could just cook the ham in the slow cooker in the glaze, serve it, and call it that. It would be delicious! But I like to go the extra step and simmer down the cooking liquid and then glaze the ham and put it for a quick trip under the broiler. It gives it that glossy, glazed, sticky, delicious coating that is pretty much the thing dreams are made of.
The great thing about slow cooker ham is that if you must absolutely serve turkey for all your holiday meals, this ham is so simple that you can make it for pretty much any meal. It doesn’t have to be totally special holiday dinner. Heck, this is even fast enough prep-time wise to work for a weeknight dinner! And then you could have really amazing sandwiches for lunch at your desk the next day.
I know a lot of you are hitting the road (or the air) over the next few days, so here’s me sending lots of wishes of headache-free, safe travels—in the form of ham. Have a wonderful holiday, friends!
Think cooking a delicious, moist, and tender ham has to be a difficult task? Not so with this slow cooker ham recipe with a honey-mustard glaze.
- 1 quarter, spiral-sliced, fully-cooked ham
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 cup water
- Place the ham in the basin of a slow cooker.
- In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, honey, mustard, cloves, and water over high heat. Heat until just warm enough to dissolve the sugar. Pour the mixture over the ham, making sure to separate the slices to let the glaze get between.
- Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6, basting with the cooking juices every few hours. Serve immediately, or, preheat the broiler, transfer the ham to a oven-safe dish, and pour the cooking liquid into a small saucepan. Heat cooking liquid on medium-high for 5-7 minutes, or until thick and bubbly. Brush onto ham, and broil for 4-5 minutes, removing to baste with additional glaze every minute or so.
I grew up in an incredibly stable environment. I had the same address for my entire childhood (and still have it now!). I went to the same school K-12. My parents are still married—going on 35 years soon. I was really fortunate to have that kind of security as a kid.
That being said, for all the benefits that kind of stability gave me, I think it also made it a little hard on me to accept change. I’m not really the most flexible of folk (some would call it “stubborn”). And probably part of that comes from the fact that I never really had to accept change growing up. I never had to deal with much of any kind of turmoil. Dealing with upheaval wasn’t a skill I learned early on.
Of course, turmoil is par for the course of adulthood, so now that I’m solidly into my thirties, I think I’m finally getting the hang of not completely melting down when something doesn’t go the way I think it should—but it hasn’t been an easy journey getting there (just ask my patient husband). I’m becoming much more go-with-the-flow as I get older, and let me tell you, it’s a much more awesome way to go through life.
One of the hardest places for me to accept change has been holiday traditions. I think because I had such a stable childhood, I decided that if something was a “tradition” it was completely sacred. Because my childhood (and especially, my holiday celebrations) were the same every year, they felt sacred to me, and anything that threatened to change those felt like a direct assault on me and my way of living.
Thankfully, as we get older, we grow up, too. And now with a few years of widely varying holiday celebrations under my belt, I’m learning the truth is that traditions don’t make or break the holidays. Sure, there is something nice about connecting to the past, but there are so many more important things at the holidays than checking off items on a to-do list. It’s fun not to put so much pressure on the holidays. We don’t have to eat this or drink that or do this or watch that. We get to eat, drink, do and watch what we want.
Like with everything else in life, sometimes traditions need to grow, morph, change or even completely disappear as our lives grow and develop. People get married or divorced or sick or moved or have kids or whatever else happens that means big life changes, and traditions have to change as well—it isn’t an attack on anything. It was just life. And the coolest thing about change? Sometimes things have to change to let something new in. And that something new might be even better. Get this. Ole stubborn me actually understands that change is healthy. Go figure.
I no longer look at traditions as sacred, but I do enjoy doing a few things every holiday season that help me connect with my roots. One tradition we always had at Christmas was drinking wassail. It was a big deal when I was finally old enough to have a mug of wassail at my first Christmas after my 21st birthday. I have such fond memories of the sweet smell of cranberry juice, wine and mulling spices filling my parents’ kitchen.
Since those days, our family Christmas celebration has morphed and changed (as you would expect as us kids get older and have our own kids), but a lot of our old traditions have found their way into our new celebrations. Wassail still makes an appearance every holiday season. I could say something like, “it wouldn’t be Christmas without wassail!” but that isn’t the case. But man, wassail sure is delicious! And I like having a warm mug of cozy when celebrating with my friends and family
Wassail has a lot of varying forms, but this cranberry and wine version was always the one we had in the house at the holidays. It’s wonderful for holiday gatherings, because you can just combine all the ingredients in a slow cooker, put out a ladle and a few glasses, and let your guests serve themselves. I promise, they’ll keep coming back for more.
The original version of this recipe is buried in the early pages of my blog. Back before I knew how to write a recipe or photograph food. I figured wassail was too important of a recipe in my life to get lost back in my early days!
Now that I have a little non-wassail-drinking baby nugget of my own, traditions take on a whole new meaning. Of course, I want to create a magical, wonderful holiday season for my daughter every year. And I hope she can have the kind of stability I had growing up. And I want her to be connected to her roots. But I also want her to understand that the joy of the holidays goes so far beyond what movie you watch or what food you eat or how you celebrate. I think the Grinch taught us all that.
This slow cooker cranberry wassail is a mulled wine drink that is the perfect thing to serve at the holidays. Double or triple it for a crowd!
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 6 cinnamon sticks
- 6 whole cloves
- 6 whole allspice berries
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 bottle dry red wine
- 2 cups pure, unsweetened cranberry juice (not cranberry juice cocktail)
- Combine all ingredients in the basin of a slow cooker. Simmer on low for two hours before serving, then keep slow cooker on to keep the wassail warm for serving.
I’ve been doing these monthly income reports for a while now (feel free to check in here if you’re looking for more info on why I’m doing them), and I have to say, one of my major goals for writing them was to motivate myself, and man, is it ever working. I am so proud of how far my monetization strategy has come in just a few short months. When I first started this, I went into it thinking that if I could just make a little bit more cash to justify the amount of time spent, I’d be happy. But now I’m starting to see that this might actually be a viable career for me (combined with my design business). A career that I am excited and inspired by!
A caveat about September’s income report before we get into the numbers. One thing I’ve learned during this process is that, like most other things, online advertising in cyclical. The year is divided into four quarters. And within each of those quarters, the first month is the worst, and the last month is the best. Also, each quarter has its own behavior. So when you’re doing month-to-month comparisons, it can be hard to get a clear comparison because you’re comparing apples to oranges. A more accurate way of comparison would be to compare like months, so say last months with other last months (March, June, September, December). So when you look at that September total up there, keep in mind that is for the last month in a quarter. And, I can promise you, October (the first month of the next quarter) won’t be nearly that high.
Okay, onto the numbers.
Disclaimer: Some of these links below are affiliate links—meaning I get a few pennies if you happen to purchase through my link. I use and recommend all of these products. Let me know if you have any questions.
- Sponsored Content — $1185.00
- The Blogger Network — $991.18
- BlogHer — $644.17
- Amazon Affiliates — $141.97
- Amazon Ads — $141.52
- souvrn — $120.10
- Swoop — $58.63
- Yellow Hammer Media — $50.98
- Adsense — $27.73
- Today’sMama — $25.00*
- ZipList — $8.31
- Zulily Affiliates — $7.80
- How to Monetize a Food Blog eBook Affiliate — $7.50
- GourmetAds — $0.74
Total Income: $3410.63
*I haven’t received my statement for Today’s Mama’s September earnings, so this number is just an estimate based on traffic and previous month’s income.
Thoughts on Income
One of my biggest struggles with this whole process has been seeing value in my own work. Sometimes, I still see myself as just a hobbyist, but the truth is, I’m no longer just in this for kicks. I’ve published two cookbooks. I’ve worked with major brands. I have business cards. I’m a professional, and it’s high time I started charging clients accordingly. I’ve finally started to get the gumption up to just ask for some more money when I honestly feel like I deserve more. The worst they can tell me is they can’t afford it, and almost every single client I’ve contacted asking for a more reasonable rate has come through with flying colors. They can’t always accommodate my requested raise, but any little thing helps. And as my readership, social clout, and skills increase, so will my arsenal of evidence for why I deserve a higher rate in the future. I’m learning that just asking (and putting value in your own work) can be one of the most important tools a professional blogger has.
Au Revoir ZipList
ZipList (the service a ton of bloggers use to house and display their recipes) sent us an email this month telling us they are calling it quits. Which, honestly, isn’t a huge deal for me, because I was still so new to ZipList, I hadn’t had a chance to transfer all my content yet. I am a little bummed to see the income source gone, but it also wasn’t a huge part of my income yet. I’m more sad about losing the potential income.
Affiliate marketing is worth looking into.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve barely dabbled with affiliate marketing (which is when a link you click is tied to a referral code, and if you buy after clicking that link, the original referrer gets a small kickback on the purchase), but I don’t think I quite realized how powerful affiliate marketing could be for my monetization strategy until I put up this post. I didn’t write that post to generate income—in fact, it was an afterthought to even put the affiliate links there—but it ended up generating a pretty large uptick in Amazon affiliate revenue for me in September. In fact, it was a 420% increase in my Amazon affiliate revenue from August to September—that’s definitely not something to ignore anymore!
I’ve tried to be more diligent about using my affiliate code when I link to products in my blog (which I’m just doing naturally—I have no interest in being a dumping ground for affiliate links), but I’ve also started thinking about new ways I can use the power of affiliate marketing, while still providing a service for my readers. I get asked all the time for product recommendations, so why not provide that and maybe make a little extra cash while I do? I’m still working on my redesign (more on that below) and I’ve come up with a few ways to place affiliate links in my new design. First up, I want to add a few spots in my sidebar that are affiliate-driven. I also plan on curating a few pages, that link to my favorite kitchen items. I’m constantly sending emails to folks who have asked what slow-cooker/knives/random thing-a-majig I recommend—so it should be really helpful to have it all in one place.
I also would like to add a little widget at the bottom of all my recipe and craft posts that includes recommendations for items specific to that post. Not only do I think it’s a great way to drive affiliate income, but a large portion of the comments I get on posts are “where did you get that?” or “what kind of ____ did you use in this recipe?” So hopefully a widget like this could go a long way to answer some questions, too.
- Food Expenses — $213.52
- AcceleratedWP (Hosting) — $30.00
- ViralTag (Pinterest Scheduling Service)— $29.00
- Facebook Advertising — $20.00
- CoSchedule (Editorial Calendar)— $10.00
- DropBox (Cloud Storage)— $9.99
Total Expenses: $312.51
Thoughts on Expenses
Facebook advertising fail.
If you’re just a casual Facebook user, you might not know this, but the algorithm that decides to display content (or not display it) in your news feed is a thing of mystery. It’s also finicky, and, honestly, kinda a jerk. You can put the wrong word in a post, and suddenly Facebook will only show that post to 5% of the people who like your page. Or you can share something totally random and it gets seen by every single person on your page. And sometimes, you can become de facto blacklisted. Where no matter what you do, you can’t escape from Facebook jail, where your content is only seen by a tiny percentage of the people who actually would like to see it. It’s frustrating. So frustrating that a lot of bloggers have all but abandoned using Facebook as a way of reaching their readers.
Luckily for me, I’ve stayed out of Facebook jail, and I get a decent amount of readership engagement (and click-throughs) on Facebook. But I totally jeopardized that in September by doing something stupid—I paid to boost some posts. Dun. Dun. Dun.
I was just experimenting. I figured, at worst, I would lose a few bucks, and at best, I might gain a whole bunch of new readers. And while the boosting of the individual posts did help each post (see the dark orange versus the light orange in the graph below), what I’m concerned with is what happened after the posts—my reach for the posts following the boosted posts were in the toilet. It was almost like Facebook was like, “Hey, sweet, this sucker paid us some money. So let’s see if we can squeeze some more out of her!”
Thankfully, my reach has seemed to recover, for the most part (although, I’m still way below my numbers pre-boost), but even with the recovery, I’m still on the fence about Facebook advertising. The fact is, my content was shown to more eyeballs. But the unfortunate thing is that it’s incredibly hard to see how that translates into dollars and cents. I have no idea if those new people who saw my posts actually clicked anything. And if they did click it, if they waited long enough on my blog for my ads to load. And if they did wait, if they had ad block software installed or not. Or if they subscribed to my blog. Or added it to their reader. Or what. It’s difficult to put worth on “post reach” in the context of this monetization project.
I’ll probably stay out of the Facebook advertising game, and instead work using more organic channels to boost my post reach (like interacting with readers and other pages, and sharing content), and leave my hard-earned cash for something more concretely helpful.
Take Home Pay
Since this whole project is about making my work time more efficient, I thought it might be helpful to figure up a formula for calculating what I’m earning each month in regular-job terms. In the formula, I subtract my expenses from my income, to get a profit. And then I subtract 30% of that number to account for taxes. That number is my take home pay for the month. In previous reports, I’ve figured out an hourly wage, but since I don’t have an accurate count of how many hours per week I spend on the blog (maybe I’ll do timecards for a week and see?), I’ll be abandoning that metric for now.
Take Home Pay = .70(Income – Expenses)
This month’s take home:
That’s a nice steady increase from August’s total. In fact, we’re closing in on the amount of take home pay I had from my first job out of college, so that’s something, right?
Another way to put my monthly numbers into perspective is to figure up the RPM (revenue per mille). This is the amount of money that the blog makes per thousand impressions. It’s a good number to know, because it helps you understand how effective your income sources are, regardless of your traffic. A blog with only 100 visitors a week, but with a high RPM is actually a lot more financially efficient than a blog with a million visitors a week but a low RPM. It’s not all about traffic! My RPM for September was:
That is an absolutely spectacular RPM! I am thrilled with this number. If I was able to stay at the rate every month, I would be a very happy blogger. As a frame of reference, decently-earning blogs have RPMs of at least $5. Excellent-earning blogs make $10+. And you’ll even see some rockstar blogs making $15-$20 RPM.
Here are a few screenshots from Google Analytics from September.
Top 10 Referring Sources
10 Most Popular Pages
Thoughts on Traffic
- Pumpkin is king in September! You know how I was complaining about new content not making it into my top 10 posts in last month’s income report? Well, this month, my number one page (other than my homepage) was my Oatmeal Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies. That, in and of itself, is impressive, but when you take into consideration that I posted those cookies on September 24th, it’s even more exciting. That means only six days of that post being out for public consumption sent it up to the top of the popularity list. Pumpkin is definitely king of September!
- Slogging away sharing my posts on social media and on the food photography sites is definitely paying off. I can now say that there is a steady upward trend in my traffic that I’m seeing. It’s exciting! Sometimes scheduling pins or being part of content sharing groups can be tedious, but it’s working (and I’m actually getting to meet a ton of new bloggers that I love interacting with).
Next Steps & Other Thoughts
Figuring Out When to Post
One of the things I’ve been working on lately is figuring out the optimal posting schedule. Since the dawn of this blog, I’ve always posted Monday-Friday. It’s what worked for me when I was working full-time in an office. I’d recipe develop and photograph on Saturdays, and write, write, write on Sundays. But even though I haven’t had a job in an office in two years, I’ve stuck with that schedule. But one graph in Google Analytics started me rethinking my posting schedule. I actually have yet to be able to find this in the depths of the GA website (so much information), but it’s front and center in the GA iPhone app, and it’s so helpful.
That graph right there shows all my Google Analytics pageviews (which, admittedly, I installed GA two years into my blog, so it isn’t my all-time pageviews, but it’s still a good sample), and how they are clustered by day of the week and time. With this chart, it is easy to see that Sundays, Mondays, Tuesday, and Wednesdays are my most trafficked days—and almost always from after 12pm until about bedtime around 10pm. Based on this chart, I started to adjust my posting schedule. I now post Sunday-Wednesday with original content—recipes, projects, etc. And then on Friday, I’ve begun posting some sort of round-up to get through the weekend or a personal post that I love to write, but maybe isn’t super interesting to a lot of folks. To put it simply, highly-shareable content goes on highly-trafficked days.
It also has me considering moving my posting time to somewhere in the afternoons. My new posts go up at 6am every day, with the thinking that is before most folks are at a computer, and can be there waiting for them when they do finally open their laptop, but maybe that’s not the best strategy.
This graph has also informed when to post items to social media. I assume that people are also viewing social media at the same time they are viewing blogs, so I’ve started weighting my social media posts to the afternoon and evening. I, for so long, was scheduling posts and social media based on how I consume content, but I’m beginning to realize that I wasn’t a typical user. Time will only tell if scheduling content to go out at highly-trafficked times will boost traffic or not. Stay tuned.
Recipe Index Redo
If you’ve ever tried looking for a recipe on my blog, you know that my Recipe Index is a hot, hot mess. The biggest part of the redesign I’m hoping to launch in the next few weeks is an overhauled, easy-to-use Recipe Index. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly tedious, because I have to go through to each recipe (all 350+ of them) and tag and categorize them so they display properly. But the work will be totally worth it. I know that having my recipes in such terrible shape has been holding me back and losing me traffic. I’m so excited to get that fixed!
That about wraps it up for September’s report. Since September is the end of a quarter, and I know not all months will be this high, I’m cautiously optimistic about this month’s total. It is so nice to see a number that is actually a livable wage, but I also know that earning passive income like this has an ebb and flow to it, and I won’t always have great months like this one. I’m super curious to see how quarter four (October-December) goes, since it’s supposed to be the best quarter for blog income. Thanks for reading!
If the weather is anything where you are like it is here (brrr! so cold!) then you are probably filling up your dinner menu with warm, cozy, hearty foods like soups, stews, and casseroles, but before you pack that grill away for the season I urge you to bundle up one more time and make yourself some dinner on the grill. Trust me. These sandwiches are worth throwing a coat on for. Or hey, maybe you’re one of those fancy people who owns a grill pan, and you can make these sandwiches while you’re all warm and toasty inside. Either way, you must make these. Must.
The key to these super delicious chicken sandwiches is all in the mesquite rub. You can make your own, like I did, or just run down to your local store and pick up some in the spices aisle. After you eat it on these sandwiches, you’ll want to have it always stocked in your pantry, so if you do go and pick some up, I highly recommend buying the biggest bottle available.
You could adjust and tweak the toppings on the sandwiches to your liking, but I’m a pretty big fan of the lettuce, tomato, bacon, and Swiss cheese combo. What isn’t optional? The mustard-mayo sauce. Traditionally, I just mix up Dijon mustard with mayo, but recently, I’ve also been throwing in a squirt or two of Sriracha—it’s pretty much the best sandwich spread on the planet. Tangy, spicy, creamy. So. Good. It’ll even make your ho-hum turkey sandwich super tasty.
If I haven’t convinced you to put on a scarf and fire up the grill yet, could I at least convince you to sock this recipe away for the first nice day of Spring? It’ll be an awesome way to celebrate the return of warm weather!
These flavorful and spicy mesquite chicken sandwiches are a great way to get a quick healthy dinner on the grill.
- 4 small chicken breasts
- 4 tablespoons mesquite grill seasoning
- 8 slices bacon, cooked
- 4 slices Swiss cheese
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce
- Buns, lettuce, and tomato
- Rub the mesquite grill seasoning evenly over all sides of the chicken breasts. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat grill to high, and cook chicken breasts on greased grill grates, flipping occasionally, until cooked through, about 10 minutes total. Place two bacon slices onto each chicken breast, and top with a slice of cheese. Close grill lid and let cheese melt, about a minute. Remove from grill.
- Whisk together the mayo, mustard, and Sriracha. Spread evenly on the top of a bun, and the stack chicken breast with tomato and lettuce.