Cookbook!

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Cookbook!

If you are wondering where I have been then let me tell you. I just finished and published my first cookbook! It has plenty of new recipes and all your old favorites from the blog put into handy sections so everything is easy to find. Available from amazon.com for Kindle. If you don’t have a kindle your can download a free app that will let you read it! Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00M677PTE/ref=mp_s_a_1_2?qid=1406499298&sr=8-2&pi=SY200_QL40 Pass it on!

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No Gluten For Me!

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Disclaimer: If you are here looking at this because you want to go on a diet and lose weight then find another site. I have not lost a single pound and I am eating this way because I have health issues which force me to.

Now that that is out of the way let me tell you my story in the hopes that someone out there like me might find answers.  For nearly three years I suffered with stomach and intestinal issues which got steadily worse. I wrote it off at first as stress-related because of my mother’s illness and death. Then I thought maybe my old duodenum issues were back. At first it was occasional nausea and some gas but I had diarrhea constantly. The pain was pretty bad. I popped gas pills and anti-acid pills but nothing helped. I went to my OB/GYN to get checked for anything in that area but the ultrasound found nothing. Soon I was so bloated that I could only wear my yoga pants and I looked pregnant. For almost two weeks out of every month and sometimes more I was in pain and bloated and afraid to eat anything. I went to the doctor again and again but they found nothing. I tried every kind of digestive enzyme and probiotic on the market but none helped. I eliminated sugar from my diet for two weeks but that did nothing. I eliminated all dairy from my diet, nada. I got rid of beef and then tried going vegetarian, still sick.

I was afraid of food and envious of my husband and boys who could eat without getting sick. I was snapping at them because of the pain. I felt fat and ugly. Every second I was searching online for someone who could give me another answer to why I felt this way. IBS was a contender for awhile but all the trigger foods they suggested I had tried to eliminate and I got no relief.  I had headaches constantly that were so bad no amount of pills helped. I was forgetting what normal felt like. I was hopeless and depressed.

Then one night I felt so bad I thought I was having a heart attack and was scared I would die and leave my boys without a mom. I went back to the doctor again but tests showed nothing. Every time I went for help I just ended up with a huge bill and a shrug. To them I was fine. That week I was again looking on the internet and I ran across the symptom list for gluten intolerance. It fit me exactly so I decided to give it a try. After one week of being gluten-free I did not wake up feeling sore. My bloating was gone and so was my diarrhea. No headaches, no depression without a reason. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and my symptoms to return. I have been gluten-free for a month and I feel normal! I love normal! Not an easy lifestyle for anyone but since I cook so much from scratch it has not been a huge change. So that is my story. I’ve discovered that rice and flax make really bad pasta and really good gluten-free pizza dough is hard to find. I will keep you updated and try to convert some of my old recipes to fit my new lifestyle.Image

Money-Saving Tips or Why I don’t sit much

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So a little back-story first so you won’t think this is a random post and question my sanity. My husband changed jobs about a year ago and to understand the situation with that you can read my post Lost and Found. With his new job he took a nearly $25,000 pay cut so money is tight. Our mortgage immediately takes half of what he brings home. I never finished college and can’t, long boring story there, so jobs I can get would barely pay enough for our youngest to be in daycare. So my job is being a mom and trying to save money the one way I can and that is with groceries. I recently posted on my Facebook timeline that I got two weeks of groceries for all five of us for $157 and a few people wanted to know how I did it so this post is about how I try to save money. This will be a long post and most of the things probably are not practical for someone without a lot of time on their hands but maybe some of it can be useful or you can modify what I do.
First off I tried the whole couponing thing and hated it. I don’t need a three year supply of condiments and most of the coupons are for yucky processed stuff I won’t feed my kids. Don’t get me wrong I do upload a few coupons onto my store loyalty card when it is something I need but I will never again clip coupons and haul around a binder trying to annoy cashiers to save a quarter or two. Not worth it to me. So I will tell you what I do use to save money.
1. Menus! I preplan two weeks of meals including the lunches I send with my two oldest boys. Not the most exciting of tasks but it keeps you from coming into the kitchen and not knowing what to fix and then opting for going out. If I don’t feel like having something one night then I can always switch it out for another night’s meal. I also keep a few frozen pizzas or rotisserie chickens in the freezer for nights I don’t want to cook.
2. Use what you have. I plan the menus around what I have on hand and try to use up everything. I worked in food service so I understand how quickly things can spoil. I have a three day policy on cooked or raw food, not including veggies and fruit, if we are not going to eat it by then it goes into the freezer so I don’t have to toss it. We ate fried chicken the other night and there were two thighs leftover and I knew we were not going to eat them so I took off the breading, diced them, and cooked them with some leftover tomatoes, peppers, and seasonings to make a filling for quesadillas. I put it into the freezer and down the line I have a lunch for the kids. I did the same with some leftover cooked pork and cole slaw mix which will be filling for wontons later. I save the carcasses from our rotisserie chickens and celery that is about to expire in the freezer and make a huge pot of stock from that. Honestly, I cannot live without my freezer.
3. Buy in bulk. About every month in a half to two months I make a big meat buy. I grab a huge bag of chicken breasts, some ground turkey, pork loins and whatever else I need. I slice the loins into chops and bag them up and the pieces at the ends that don’t make good chops I dice for chili or soup. We don’t buy beef anymore because my digestive system has decided I can’t eat it and that is a sad state of affairs for a former native Texan. Can you truly be a former Texan? I digress. Having this meat on hand makes meals easier for me to plan and it is cheaper than buying in small amounts. Not everybody has a freezer so this is only practical for those that do. I get my paper towels and toilet paper the same way. For those screaming that paper towels are not eco friendly I am sorry but I do laundry every other day and if I had to wash more towels I am sure the water I would use up negates and benefit from not using paper. I do have three boys, three cats, and a dog.
4. If you can make it or grow it yourself then do. I started making my own laundry soap. I grate a bar of Ivory, add one cup of Borax and a cup of washing soda and I have laundry soap! Works like a charm too. I had trouble finding washing soda so I looked it up and all you have to do is bake baking soda to change the chemical makeup into washing soda. I buy the big bag of baking soda at Sam’s and then bake it at 400° for about an hour and get washing soda. It only takes a tablespoon of laundry soap per load and in my high efficiency washer I just put the soap on top of the clothes. I use concentrated multi- purpose cleaner, all natural of course, for everything. I buy a bottle about every six months and then pour ¼ cup into a spray bottle and add water. Don’t get tricked into thinking you need some ultra tough cleaner. I use this for everything. On my smooth-top stove it cleans really well if I dump some kosher salt and baking soda for the scrubbing effect. I also use the foaming hand wash pumps but rather than buying the refills of foam wash, which is mostly water, I buy a refill of regular soap, natural again, and the just add around a tablespoon to the pump and fill with water. I save a lot of money on household cleaning products this way. By the way that all purpose cleaner works in those refillable spray mops too which is what I use. I bake my own bread. I use a bread machine though, so I guess I kind of cheat but still I can control what goes in it and it is a lot cheaper for us since I don’t like white bread. I also just started making our yogurt. Got a machine for about $36 with shipping and it makes eight containers. I got three batches with some milk left over out of a gallon and I can make coconut milk yogurt too. Saves a lot of money of yogurt around here and I know exactly what is in there. I make my own ketchup, Worcestershire, steak sauce, jam, salsa, pickles, and tomato sauce. You can Google recipes for anything these days so check it out. Our garden did really well and we have a great farmer’s market in the summer so I try to go canning crazy and preserve what I can. Even if you just make a few jars of jam you can save a lot of money and freezer jam is easy. I make and freeze biscuits and whenever I cook I make enough to freeze some for later use. Beans are another easy thing to cook and they freeze really well. I also make large batches of mini muffins for lunches. Chocolate chip and banana are the faves and they freeze too. I freeze leftover waffles and pancakes which reheat well in the toaster or the microwave. If I am going to be cooking anyhow I might as well make extra so I don’t have to pay somebody else for it.
5. Water only. I recently weaned the boys off of those pouch drinks and now only allow water with some flavorings. I found flavorings on Amazon that use stevia. Yes, it is bottled water and not great for the environment but baby steps here folks. They get a soda if we are eating out but I won’t bring them home. To pay that much money for a bunch of chemicals seems wrong to me so I just don’t. I also have told them that they have to use almond milk for their cereal since milk prices are getting crazy. If they want to have a glass of milk I am fine with it but I end up dumping out a lot of soggy cereal so I would rather throw out the almond milk.
Well those are my strategies for saving money along with telling the boys that they aren’t allowed to be picky. I hope some of these will help you save a little money. If I come up with anything else I will let you know.

2013 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Sunflower Brittle with bonus Peanut Brittle recipe

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Apologies for it being so long but I just have not had any good ideas for recipes and then my oven went out. Also, I don’t get paid for this I just do it for fun so forgive the long hiatus. This recipe is an adaptation of one I use every year from my Betty Crocker Cookbook. My aunt developed a nut allergy late in life and so I thought it unfair that she couldn’t have any peanut brittle so I fixed that. Usually I am rather loose in my directions but this is candy so you have to follow them closely or your candy will end up in the trash! Read the whole recipe then get everything you need set up before you start because you can’t stop in the middle of this. I made a batch of sunflower and a batch of peanut brittle in about an hour so it isn’t hard you just need to be prepared. I will give you a recipe that allows you to make either kind but remember it is not my recipe except for the sunflower kernel addition. I used roasted and salted sunflower kernels and roasted but unsalted peanuts. Most recipes call for unroasted peanuts but I think the roasted kind give a much better product. If you can find unsalted sunflower kernels those will work also I just could not find any. It took me about two large bags of them with some leftover. Also, if you don’t have a candy thermometer do yourself a favor and go buy one because it makes this so much easier.

You will need:

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon water

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ cups of sugar

1 cup of water

1 cup of light corn syrup

3 tablespoons of butter

2 cups of sunflower kernels or 3 cups of peanuts

 

Heat your oven to 200° and then place a greased sheet pan in it to keep warm. Lay out something to set the hot sheet pan on when you pull it from the oven and something to put the hot pot on too. I use a couple of kitchen towels to protect the counter. In a small bowl mix together the baking soda, water, and vanilla. In a large pot, two quarts at least, mix the cup of water, sugar, and corn syrup together. Now before you get started heating up this mixture place your already measured butter and sunflower kernels or peanuts near the stove in easy reach. Also place a glass of ice water to test for your candy stage. Now you are ready! Over medium heat, stirring every now and then, bring your sugar mixture to 240° on the candy thermometer this might be labeled the soft ball stage on some thermometers. To check the candy drop a little in the ice water and if it forms a ball that you can still smush it is ready. My computer doesn’t like the word smush so I am typing it again! Ha! Now you can add in the butter and if you are doing peanuts add them in too. I wait to add the sunflower kernels until later because I worry that they might burn. This you have to stir continuously. Do not leave it for one second! It will burn and you will have wasted your time. The temp of your candy will drop slightly when you add the cold butter so it will take a little bit to get it back up. You need it to reach 300° this time which is the hard crack stage.  If you think it is ready drop some in the ice water and if you get thin threads you are done and can take it off the stove. Get your pan out of the oven and then quickly beat in, by hand with a spoon, the vanilla mixture. Your candy will bubble up. If you are doing the sunflower version this is when you add them in. Now comes the tough part. My recipe says to divide this between two pans but I have never gotten it that thin so I only use one pan. I pour it out and then press it down with a buttered plastic spatula I use on pancakes. Try different things until you find something that works to spread out the candy. If you want to try doing two pans go right ahead just remember to keep them heated. I warn you the sunflower is easier to spread than the peanut. Let it cool and then just break it up and store it. I put mine in tins and if I make it way ahead of the holidays I keep it in the freezer. Now because I love you and I am going to give you something most recipes never bother with. Clean up tips! As soon you get that brittle out of the pan and spread out put the pot, thermometer, and spoons into hot water and let it sit. All the candy will just wash right out! You are welcome, and Happy Holidays everybody!

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Loss and Grieving or Coming to Terms with Your Own Mortality

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First I am going to apologize for this not being a recipe and for my not writing as often as I want. Second I am going to be completely unapologetic about what I am going to write about. I am going to be candid and most people, especially in this country, are not going to like it. Nearly one year ago my mother died. She was sick for about a year or two before that so my children will probably not remember the woman I knew especially my two younger boys. She was not my first loss and she will not be my last. I am fully aware that I and everyone I love can and will die. There I said it. We are all going to die! Even my husband when I, once again, told him we need a will asked me what happened. Nothing has to happen to understand a basic fact of life. He acted as though I just told him some horrible news. Throughout this year I have noticed a truth about this country. We like to pretend that we aren’t going to die. We like to use terms like “closure” and expect people to “move on”. When did we forget that grief has never really ends and once that connection with that person is lost you never get over it. I remember asking my father how he was doing and he said that nobody wanted to talk about it and expected him to be past it already. This was barely a month after losing his wife of 35 years. I wanted to go scream at these people. I have wanted to scream at a lot of people this year. Why are we so uncomfortable with emotions and death and grief but putting violent whores on television is just fine? When did we stop understanding what being human means? We feel intensely. We cry, we rage, we care, and we love and we feel loss. Every time I see somebody in a store shopping with their elderly mother I tear up. I wonder if they understand how precious this everyday thing is. I wonder what my mother would have looked like as an old woman. Some people make think it harsh but I am raising my children with no illusions as to death. I don’t think we need another generation of people who pretend it will never happen to them. I think we need a generation who appreciates every second that they get of life and understand that death is natural but grieving is hard.  I laugh at the “steps of grief” because they are so ridiculous. Grief is sneaky and just when you think you are doing okay it sneaks up and hits you over the head. You can’t follow steps like you were programming a VCR or something you just try and make it from one day to the next. I try to live as though I might not get tomorrow but I still have hopes for the future. I almost feel sorry for my husband and others who can’t face death or haven’t had a deep loss. They just don’t understand the true beauty of life and the reality that it is not forever. I don’t get too upset over this though because I don’t really get overly angry over anything anymore. In the big picture not much more than making sure I have raised my boys right and they know how much I love them is important. When you lose someone you lose yourself and you almost have to reinvent who you are. It is especially hard for me because I look and sound just like my mom. I look in the mirror and see a younger version of her looking back at me and I am sad that she never truly thought she was beautiful. I regret living so far apart that the boys did not get to know her and my youngest will probably have no memories of her at all. I am hoping to leave my boys with few regrets but I know that is nearly impossible. At my age I don’t think my mom was thinking she only had nineteen more years and what was she going to do in that time but that is how I think now. I understand how my husband thinks I am depressed or morbid because our culture makes thinking this way taboo but I won’t change. If this post does nothing else maybe it will make you reconsider what is really important to you and maybe you will go call or hug those you love. I am going to go cuddle my boys; even the nearly 10-year-old one who is 80 pounds is getting put on my lap!Image

More on Healthy Eating

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I would be untruthful if I said that going all organic and homemade was easy but I sure do feel better and my skin is looking great. I am slimmer than before without working out or dieting and my kids are way better behaved. This was never more noticeable than the day my oldest got his braces off. I caved and bought them some candy. After eating the candy they were awful! Fighting and hitting each other and being really loud and uncontrollable. Now don’t go blaming sugar folks because the cantaloupe cake, which I will give a recipe for, has a lot of sugar in it and they didn’t behave that way after eating it. Nope, has to be all the other things in that candy. Never again. Not sure what I will do about trick or treating this year. Need to think about that one. I know it seems like I have all the time in the world but really I am just an overachiever so to make things easier I premake a lot of things and freeze them. Our freezers are my saving grace. I make biscuits in a smaller than normal size in quadruple batches and then freeze them after baking. Thirty seconds in the microwave and I have an easy breakfast. When I make waffles I do a double batch and then freeze those too. Toasted in the toaster and they are way better than commercial brands and cheaper too. I baked a bunch of carrot cupcakes and mini chocolate chip muffins and froze them for the boys’ school lunches and I premade some mini turkey burgers for them too. My mom taught me to always make a weekly menu to save money at the grocery store and I always preplan the boys’ lunches also to make it easier so I am not scrambling in the morning to figure out what to feed them. I sort of despaired today when I had such a short list of items to buy and getting everything was $92. Then I looked up how much the government says that feeding a family of five generally costs and it is $182 so I guess $92, I didn’t include the cat food in this, on all organic food to get us through the week is not so bad. I love that our Kroger is putting out more of their store brand organic products every week. I like that I don’t have to make an hour long trip to go to Whole Foods just to shop for organics. Plus the store brand is much cheaper than most of what I would get at Whole Foods although I really do love shopping there. Anyhow, back to how I am making this work for the kids. To appease the four-year-old and his macaroni and cheese addiction I had to come up with a way to easily make it without having to make a sauce and pasta at a moment’s notice. I know that they make organic boxes of it but it tastes bad so I scoured the internet for ideas on freezing it and this is what I came up with. This is going to make a huge amount but you are going to freeze it in muffin tins and then you get about 40 individual, small, servings! Just warm them up and you have a meal to please any preschooler or adult!

You will need:

As many muffin tins as you have

Some nonstick spray (Kroger sells an organic store brand of this!)

2 packages (16 oz) of elbow pasta

½ cup of butter

½ cup of flour

Pinch of turmeric (if you don’t have it don’t worry it imparts slight flavor and I use it mainly for the color)

Pinch of paprika

Pinch of salt

Pinch of garlic powder

2 cups of milk (warmed to at least room temp you don’t want it really cold. Microwave it if you have to)

6 cups of shredded cheese (any variety is fine you can even slice up cheese slices and throw them in)

1 15 oz jar of alfredo sauce (I could not find an organic variety at the store so I just picked one with the least number of ingredients and no odd chemicals. You do not want homemade I will explain why later)

 

Get two big pans and boil some water for the pasta in one and melt the butter in another.  Once the butter is melted add in the seasonings and let cook just a minute then add in the flour. Stir and toast for a minute or two until it doesn’t smell so much like flour then add in your milk a little at a time. If you warmed up the milk you shouldn’t get any lumps. This is going to look really runny but trust me it will be fine. Now start adding in your cheese a cup at a time and making sure it is melted in before you add more. Once all the cheese is in add the alfredo sauce. When I read all the tips online for freezing it said that the finished product was dry when reheated so the addition of Alfredo sauce which is commercially made to stay liquid will help it to not be so dry when you reheat it. You should now have a very creamy cheese sauce. Follow package directions for the pasta and cook it just until it is tender but not falling apart then drain it and stir it into the cheese sauce.  Spray your muffin cups and start spooning in and pressing down the Mac n cheese. If you need to you can store the rest in the refrigerator until the first batch is frozen. I had to do this since I only had two muffin tins.

 

 

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Once it is frozen pop the Mac n cheese “muffins” out of the tins and put them into a bag or a container and store them in the freezer until you need them. If it should seem too dry you can add a teaspoon or two of milk to the “muffin” when reheating. It will probably take a few of these to satisfy an adult but they are just right for my little guy. Hope this is helpful!

 

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Now for that cantaloupe cake recipe I promised. I don’t have any pictures because this cake never last more than 2 days around here. I found the recipe on somebody else’s blog and she got it from All Recipes website but she made it as bread. I make it as a Bundt cake and it is awesome. We had at least 16 cantaloupes this year and I cut up and froze most of them so I can just pull some out and puree it for this recipe but I made the first one with a fresh melon so either way works fine. If you don’t care of cantaloupe don’t worry because it does not really have the flavor of cantaloupe it is just really moist. 

 

You Will Need:

 

Greased and floured Bundt pan

3 eggs

1 cup of oil

2 cups of sugar

3 cups of flour

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 tablespoon of vanilla

2 cups of pureed cantaloupe

¾ teaspoon of baking powder

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

½ teaspoon of ginger

 

Heat oven to 325°. Sift the dry ingredients together. Okay I have to admit here that I NEVER do this I just stir the baking powder and baking soda into the wet before adding the flour to make sure it is in there evenly and it works every time but you do what you want here. Mix sugar, oil, vanilla, eggs, and cantaloupe together then stir in the dry. Do not over mix this! Bake for about 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. I let mine cool then mix together powdered sugar and some lemon juice to make a glaze but it is really good plain too.