Mulan Noodles aka Beef Chow Fun

This dish has become a staple in our house. It’s a variation of a dish in Miss A’s first cookbook: Disney Princess Cookbook (affiliate link) and this amazing recipe from Woks of Life. We’ve made some modifications usually based on what we have on hand and if we need to use up a whole onion or are missing green onions.

Mulan Noodles also known as Beef Chow Fun on a white plate

Mulan Noodles aka Beef Chow Fun

Course Main Course
Cuisine Asian
Servings 4 people


Beef Marinade

  • 8 oz. flank steak sliced thin (we often get this presliced from our grocer)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch You can also use arrowroot powder
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

Rest of the Dish

  • 12 oz. rice noodles we usually use these prepackaged ones (affilate link)
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 4 scallions split in half or cut into inch long pieces
  • 3 tablespoons fresh ginger we use the ginger paste
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 4 to 6 ounces fresh bean sprouts We've previously used canned but it never turns out as good.
  • 1 onion sliced


  • Combine the beef and marinade ingredients and marinate for at least an 1 hour. (There have been times we've only let the beef marindate for a half hour and while the dish is still good, it is better if you let it marinate longer, so plan ahead.)
  • Unpackage the noodles. If the noodles are very stiff and stuck together, boil some water and add the noodles. Let them sit for about 30 seconds to a minute to loosen. Then drain.
  • Heat your wok or pan over high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil to coat the wok. Add the beef and sear until browned. Remove the beef from the pan. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons more sunflower or vegetable oil. Add the ginger and cook for about 15 seconds. Add the scallions.
  • Add the noodles and stir-fry on high for about 15 seconds. Add the Shaoxing wine.
  • Add the sesame oil, soy sauces, pinch of sugar and seared beef. Stir-fry. Tip from Woks of Life that is BRILLIANT: Lift the noodles in an upward motion to mix well and coat them evenly with the sauce.
  • Add a bit of salt and white pepper to taste (taste the noodles before adding salt). Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry. Serve hot.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!


Homemade Dairy Free Hot Butter Beer

Image shows a mug of dairy free Butter Beer with the title Homemade Hot Butter Beer with the words Dairy Free and Easy Recipe in round circles

This is so much easier than I expected! We’ve been reading our way through the Harry Potter series and on a recent cold day decided to try a recipe for Dairy-Free Butter Beer. After searching for a recipe and not finding one, I combined a few different recipes to create this one.

Three mugs of Hot Homemade Dairy Free Butter Beer on a counter

Homemade Dairy Free Hot Butter Beer

Course Drinks
Servings 4 people


  • 1 cup vanilla almond milk
  • 3 tablespoons butterscotch jello pudding mix
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon rum extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cans cream soda warmed
  • dash salt


  • heat the vanilla almond milk over medium low heat, add pudding mix and other ingredients leaving out the cream soda. Stir with a whisk until well blended and heated through. Remove from heat.
  • Warm the cream soda. We did this by warming it in a separete pot on low heat. Pour the warmed soda into a mug. Add the heated butterscotch mixture and mix with a fork slowly (it will foam!).
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!


No Spend Month Updates

Small glass jar with a cork lid and pennies inside with a label and the word budget affixed in the middle

I knew the lessons of this year’s No Spend February lessons were sinking in when I finally figured out what to add to a perpetually empty and dusty but very usable shelf and more importantly when our family conversations about want and need changed to what we are individually and together saving to buy later.

Only adding one item to the wish list was another indication we were starting to change our focus and reevaluate instant gratification.

Though we mostly avoided adding extra things to the grocery cart and maintained a decreased grocery budget for the last 20 days, we weren’t perfect.

I had a work trip and used a birthday gift certificate to a day spa while I was there but forgot to pack a bathing suit and had to purchase one from Target for $38. Though I could have not purchased the bathing suit, I would not have been able to enjoy all the wonderful amenities that went along with my gift.

While I was out of town, my family went out for an unplanned dinner and after a particularly hard day, we went out to dinner, but the total of both meals was less than another birthday gift, so this came out nearly even.

We needed to replace one of our humidifiers, which absolutely fell under the need category, but we also didn’t price compare and just picked one we knew would be in stock. We probably spent a bit more than we otherwise would have.

There were a few other unplanned purchases in the last 20 days:

  • Trail Race fee $35 (I’d forgotten to register in January as initially planned.)
  • Visit to a local indoor pool $10
  • A coffee meeting $8

    Added up our unplanned expenses came out to about $212, which is less than we would have typically spent at this point in the month.

How to Do a No Spend Month

Image showing a white piggy bank and a woman in a yellow shirt adding a coin to the piggy bank.

It’s No Spend February! Traditionally once a year our family takes a month to evaluate our spending patterns and consumer behaviors. Sometimes this takes place in January, other times in February.

We specifically choose the winter months because we are already spending more time at home. Taking a month’s break to purposely evaluate what we want, what we need and what we can wait to purchase gives us space to make use of what we have and save money for the things we want.

Over the years, we’ve learned as a family and as individuals that sometimes we think we really want or need something in the moment only to realize: we don’t really need it, we have something at home that can be repurposed to achieve the same result or help us decide what we really need, we can wait and we can and should price compare.

The following are the “rules” we used to give us structure for the month.

We can spend money on necessities, such as:

  • gasoline
  • groceries
  • rent or mortgage
  • utilities
  • insurance (car, home, etc.)
  • childcare
  • other fixed expenses (for us this is Netflix, Roku and iTunes)
  • presents for those outside of our family

We avoid spending money on:

  • dining out (lunches or dinner)
  • clothes shopping
  • trips to the movie theater, amusement park, museums, etc.
  • coffee shops (see dining out)
  • Amazon purchases (we do make heavy use of the save for later feature)

The rules have also evolved over the years to become dependent on the month and allow for oddities such as an unexpected car repair or celebration. As three important events occur for our family in February, we plan ahead or use gift certificates if the No Spend month will be in February.

For us, a no spend month boils down to: is this a want or a need.

If it is a need, then that’s the end of it. If it is a want, then we wait and if it is something we can live without for the month, we reevaluate if it is something that can wait longer.

One of the best things that happens this month is we get to really evaluate how we use our resources in both time and finances. We have conversations about our home and what our next big and small projects should be.

We also use the time to declutter and go through what we already have. We donate items, sell items and  enjoy the less cluttered space.

If you’ve never taken a break from spending and focused on what you spend, where and why, you should consider taking a break if not for a whole month for a few days or weeks.

I expect if you do, you will be as surprised as I always am at how much money you save and the clarity of what are wants and needs for us.

Emphasize Your Why in Cover Letters + template

Cover Letter Advice by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

There are more than 6,560,000,000 search results for “cover letter template.” Nearly all of the results recommend starting with the standard, “I am [adjective] excited to submit my application for [job title] at [company].”

Starting a cover letter this way practically ensures the recipient will skim the opening and the rest of your letter.

In the positions I’ve hired for, I prefer to read cover letters that start with why. Why this position? Why this company?

Specifically, tell me a story and prove you’re a writer.  For example:

I would like to express my interest in the [position title] position at [company]. My interest in [field] has taken me from [experience] to [experience]. I believe that my passion for [aspect of your field or background], a strong commitment to [aspect of your field or background], and interest in [aspect of your field or background] make me an ideal candidate to join the [department] staff at [company]. I’m specifically interested in [company] because [related to the company mission statement, reputation, a specific project, is in one of your areas of interest, etc.].

This tells me you are not only looking for the position title but at my organization, which makes me inclined to look closer at what you would bring to the role. Which is exactly what you should spell out next.

As a candidate, here’s what I could immediately bring to the table:

  • An [adjective] [descriptor that reflects transferable skill outline in the job description]: In my role at [current or previous job], I [action or accomplishment with outcome emphasized]. I was also able to [verb] my [skill desired in job description] abilities as a [role or responsibilities outlined in job description] in [project name] by [what you did].
  • A [adjective] [descriptor that reflects another transferable skill outline in the job description]: I have always displayed my [soft skill outlined in job description] to [job responsibility outlined in job description] by [action]. At [current or previous company], I [time such as always or frequently] [action]. In addition, I had the opportunity to [action or accomplishment], which further shows my [noun such as commitment or dedication] to [aspect of your field noted in the job description].
  • A [adjective] [descriptor that reflects another transferable skill outline in the job description]: Every step in my career is driven by my [noun such as interest, appreciation, recognition] in [aspect of your career field noted in the job description]. [explain how you keep up with industry trends and tie this sentence back to the specific company, for example, While actively managing more than 10 social channels, building and supporting the online community, I still regularly dedicated part of my week to stay current on marketing and social data trends. Given [company’s] [recent award or recognition] I strongly believe this established routine would make me a valuable part of the team.]  

Looking for even more hints? Find your current job description or rewrite your current job description and compare it against the job description you are writing the cover letter for.

As a hiring manager, if your cover letter makes it past the algorithm, I want to see you can write, learn more about why you think the company is where you want to work and if your skills are a good fit beyond what your resume tells me.