Monday, March 26, 2012

Retirement diversification thoughts and plans

I took advantage of a quiet weekend to deal with Life Stuff - taxes and filing, and also I finally made myself sit down and take a clear look at my retirement accounts. 

I've long understood it's important to diversify investments. And I've made stabs at it, but the pure truth is I have no idea what I'm doing. I had questions like: if I've got 21% of my investments in a large-cap fund, and another 20% in a broad market index.. is that basically 41% in the same segment of the market? I kinda think so, but I don't KNOW.

I decided I was going to rebalance yesterday - which implies A Plan, so I also knew I was going to come up with some sort of plan.One plan I'd come across recommended:
25% 500 fund; 25% Small-Cap; 25% International; 25% Bond  

25% in bonds seemed too high given my age, and since I don't own a home I thought I ought to invest in real estate using a vehicle called a REIT. Oh, and I had a bunch of mid-cap stocks for some reason... so that plan is a good starting point but didn't really fit my situation.

So now I have a plan. I admit I settled on it pretty arbitrarily, which on the one hand isn't so great, but heck, it's a plan. I'm taking some comfort from that. Here it is:

Large cap/broad market: 40%
Small cap: 10% 
International: 25%  
Bond: 15%
Reit: 10%

To achieve something close  to that percentage split I closed my mid-cap fund and added that money to my international and bond funds; I also transferred money from my small-cap into bonds. The Fidelity site (which is my work-sponsored plan) made it pretty easy to do all this once I decided what I wanted to do.

My monthly retirement contributions are with Fidelity, and I don't have access to a REIT there, so I've split the investments among broad market/small cap/international/bond. I'll have to rebalance regularly to keep the REIT where I want it to be, but I think I can do it annually and call it good.

Oh and I still have a broad market index fund I have to roll over - from a job I left nearly 6 years ago - but I did figure its balance into my percentages above. I'll just have to move it from broad market where it is, to a broad market at Vanguard, and call it good. One of these days...!

So is this so-called plan of mine total crap?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Marjolaine, completed! (and notes for next time)

In my last post I showed lots of assembly shots of the dessert I was making. I got the Marjolaine recipe from David Lebovitz' fantastic dessert cookbook Ready for Dessert. I'm not much of a cookbook buyer in this lovely day of online recipes, but I've made several from the book and it's littered with post-its for future reference!

So here is the marjolaine, after 36 hours of refrigerated resting:
You can't tell very well from my careful photography, but it's decidedly tilty. I'm not sure how I would improve that next time - perhaps trim the cake better before stacking.

Here is the final product:
That's actually a slice and a half, because it was all that was leftover and I am a piggy. If you just look at the longest rectangle shape in the center of the plate, that's what the marjolaine looked like. I served it with whipped cream/creme fraiche (whatever was leftover after the baking process: whip the cream, fold in sweetened creme fraiche) and ground toasted almonds & hazelnuts, since those were the nuts used in the cake layers.

It was fantastic. The wine group members loved it, and one said the result was on par with things her dad (a master German baker) produces - high praise indeed!

For future reference:
  • It really is easy, and is best if you take 3 days to do the various bits. Starting on Sunday for a Friday reveal was perfect.
  • I am not very skilled at caramelizing sugar (used to make the praline, used in the top layer). That was by far the most difficult step and I probably could have gone a bit darker, but got too nervous. Next time try to go just a trifle longer. 
  • I might make the ganache in two batches next time - 1/3 for the cake layer, and the other 2/3 for the frosting. Reheating the ganache was not easy and its texture was a tiny bit off. 
  • I used Guittard 72% bittersweet chocolate, because I thought the whole dessert would be quite sweet and wanted to offset it a bit. However I didn't love it mixed with the tartness of the creme fraiche, so next time I'll go a shade lighter with 61% semisweet. My local shop sells it for $10/pound which is the best price for the high-end chocolates I've found. I would also consider getting one of Trader Joe's big ol' pound-plus and chopping it up, but the discs in the Guittard box are very handy to work with.
  • The trickiest layer to work with was the vanilla creme fraiche - the white layer in the middle. It was pretty runny, so I would work a bit harder to get it thickened and might consider researching additives like cornstarch or gelatin or cream of tartar to try to get it to stiffen better. Once it was refrigerated it was pretty good, but it was not easy to stack & wrap without the goo sliding out every which way.
  • I would trim the edges of the cake before assembling to try to limit the tilt factor
  • OR next time I'll cover the layers side by side, then stack & wrap quickly. That might be the easiest solution, actually. 
  • I made this with a gluten-intolerant friend in mind - the only thing I had to modify was using corn starch on the parchment paper, instead of flour. The recipe itself is naturally gluten-free. 
  • Next time I'll try making my own creme fraiche - apparently you just put some buttermilk into heavy cream, but that is a LOT cheaper than buying it already soured/thickened.
  • The ingredients for the dessert ran about $25 - definitely the most expensive thing I've made.
To sum up: if you have time and patience, tackle the marjolaine! It's totally worth it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Works in progress: sweater, marjolaine

This week has been a weird juggling-of-project bits.
I'm finally wrapping up the sweater. Since I wasn't smart enough to wash and block the pieces as I finished them, and since my drying mat is only so big, I started with washing and blocking the arms on Sunday, then the back on Monday night, and the front panels on Wednesday evening.

I'm also working on a semi-complicated layered dessert called a marjolaine. On Sunday I made the praline (caramelized sugar and toasted/chopped nuts).
 On Tuesday night I made the meringue - it's more like a cake than the puffy cookies, with egg white, sugar, corn starch, and ground nuts. You bake it in a long thin sheet, so you can cut it into four sections for layering later.
Last night I made the ganache,
and the vanilla cream (some of which I used to make the praline cream for another layer, but evidently forgot to photograph it):
Then it was time to assemble:
layer of meringue/cake, layer of ganache; layer of cake, layer of vanilla cream:
And finally another layer of cake, a layer of praline cream, and a final cap of cake:
Some of the layers were a bit runny, so I had to quickly wrap it and get it in the fridge. The flavors should some together a bit, and I HOPE the creams will firm up. On Friday after work I'm supposed to frost it with the rest of the ganache and serve at room temperature.

The recipe is from David Lebovitz' excellent cook book Ready for Dessert. He had NO pictures so I relied upon the internet. My fingers are crossed it come out - though I'm fully confident it'll taste great!

Oh, and at some point I'll seam the sweater. It would be nifty to wear it to wine group on Friday but I'm not optimistic I can hold still long enough to do all the sewing tonight.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Calendar: March

Hm, this makes two months in a row of pictures from my trip to New Mexico last year. Well, it was pretty!
I had a hard time choosing which picture to use for this month's page.  I wound up going for the horizontal orientation, even though I slightly preferred the vertically-oriented shot.
Perhaps I'll print that one for framing... though my living room walls are starting to get a bit full!