Author Archives: 52WeeksofBirmingham

Low Carb Ranch Dressing: Tina’s Homemade Ranch

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Several months ago, my friend, Tina, shared this recipe with me for sugar-free ranch dressing. I had been searching for a replacement for commercially bottled ranch, because they generally have sugar, preservatives, and chemicals. My husband loves to drench his salads in ranch, bottled salad dressing has a couple of carbs per tablespoon and he eats half the bottle, so I realized one day that we needed a lower carb version. Salad is one of his favorite foods so of course, I aimed to deliver.

This recipe for low carb, sugar free salad dressing is simple to make, it uses very basic ingredients, and is customizable in many ways. It’s really tasty, makes a great dipper for things like nuggets and veggies, and lasts in the fridge for 2 weeks or so. Tina is a great cook, so I knew when she shared it, that it would be a keeper, and I was right.

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This homemade ranch recipe can be made in just a few minutes. Give it a try and see how you like it.

Tina’s Homemade Ranch

1 cup of Mayo
1/2 cup of Sour Cream
1/2 teaspoon dried chives
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Mix this together

*My notes: This is really thick, which is great! I like to stir in about 1/4 cup of water to thin it out. It’s purely a personal preference. Plus, if it sits in the fridge, it continues to thicken because the dried herbs soak up some of that water. Sometimes, I add a packet of sweetener, too. It depends on my mood and what I’m using it for.

That’s it!

Versions:
Spicy ranch: Add cayenne pepper to taste. I’d start with 1/4 teaspoon, plus it depends on how old your cayenne is.

Buttermilk ranch: Stir in about a tablespoon of powdered buttermilk

This is a great salad dressing to keep in your fridge, or to quickly mix up. I store it in a mason jar so I can make a quick grab when I need it.

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Cooking from scratch is the most budget friendly,  Over time, it saves not just money, but your health. and you really can’t put a price on that.

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Low Carb on the Road: Fast Food at Hardee’s and Captain D’s

Thursday morning, I left out early with my youngest on a short day trip. Ok, maybe it wasn’t so short. I don’t have a strong concept of time, so my day trips usually turn into “all day” trips. Anyway, we hopped in the van and headed east, towards the Land of Lotto.

See, Mr. Incredible has taken to giving me scratch tickets for Christmas (which I LOVE), so every now and then, we go exchange the winners for more tickets. It’s a fun drive, it gets us out of the house, there are some cool thrift stores between here and there, and we stop at a Kroger. There is no Kroger in Birmingham, and they have a really nice selection of LC dairy products. The whole trip is a win.

When we are on these trips, sometimes we stop for food. I usually get him something, because he’s in that phase where he is constantly starving, but I wanted something this time. So, I stopped at Hardee’s.

Hardees will make you a burger and low carb it. Really, “Low Carb” is on the menu. Where most places will make you a burger and leave the bun off and hand you a fork, Hardee’s goes the extra mile with theirs. They wrap it in a bunch of extra lettuce leaves, then they wrap paper that doesn’t dissolve onto your food around it, so you can actually pick it up and eat it without a bun and without making a mess of your fingers.

This is a pic of mine:

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I love a good double cheeseburger. This is the monster burger. It’s got 3 slices of cheese, 2 layers of bacon, mayo, and two patties. It’s so big, I couldn’t even fit my mouth around it. It costs around 7 bucks but I wasn’t hungry all day after that. I do eat slowly, and I ate on it all the way to Carrolton.

On on our way home, he was kind of hungry (again)  so we popped into Captain D’s and grabbed two shrimp skewers. Captain D’s has steamed broccoli on their menu and also green beans (steer clear of fast food coleslaw, most have sugar) but their grilled menu is where they really shine. They have a couple of types of grilled fish, but they also have shrimp skewers. For 2.29, you get six seasoned shrimp on a stick and they usually do a great job of not overcooking the shrimp till they are rubbery. This day was no exception. The shrimp were great! I snagged one. These make a good snack and decent enough road food.

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Eating on the go is sometimes necessary for some of us. Just remember that most places have options, you just have to study the menu. These two are some of my very favorites, and maybe they will be yours, too.

 

Let’s Talk About: Baby Corn!

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Occasionally, a certain ingredient shows itself in the LC world and there are often people who have no idea about it. Today, that ingredient is baby corn. That delicious, saucy little bite from stir fries of your carby days is actually very low in carbohydrate and high in fiber and deserving of your recognition, provided you aren’t trying to live a grain free lifestyle. You know, because corn is a grain.

Baby corn is exactly that. It is the immature ear of corn. It is picked before the kernels mature, and before they develop their sugars, so it’s carb content is really low and it shouldn’t affect blood sugars. It is also mostly cob, thus the high fiber content. Here is a pic I took of the cans in the $1 section of one of my local grocery stores. This is one of those items I keep in my pantry.

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As you can see, it’s $1 per can and each 1/2 cup serving has 4 carbs and 2 fiber. There are more expensive brands out there and always check your labels. The pickled stuff that comes in the jar often has added sugar. Always check your labels on everything, actually.

Anyway, back to the baby corn. Regular, canned or frozen corn (or corn on the cob, sorry, folks!)  is not low carb, but baby corn is different. Over time, I’ve come to include it in soups, stews, stir fries, salads, and casseroles. It is a great way to add some variety to your recipes without adding a lot of carb. So, try some out for yourself, and remember, if you have diabetes, eat to your meter.

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$25 One Week, Low Carb Dollar Tree Menu for One Episode 2

Last weekend, I was so inspired by all of the traffic to my page, that I decided to test out another $25 menu with Dollar Tree foods. After reviewing some feedback from readers, though, it seems not everyone has a Dollar Tree, so I’ve been thinking about other stores as well. Here in Birmingham area, we have Publix, Winn-Dixie (Which is owned by BiLo, which would probably have similar deals), Aldi, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Wal-Mart, Target, Earth Fare, and a slew of small, locally-owned places which I LOVE. We also have Dollar General and Fred’s, and I may be missing a few. I’m going to do a Kroger menu the next time I go over into Georgia for a lottery ticket and I hit up Kroger while I’m there. So, as time goes by, I’m planning assorted $25 menus and some stores may present more of a challenge than others.

This week, I went and bought these items, and I’m going to talk about a few of them, but I’m not going into depth about each. Seriously, DT has one block of Pepper Jack cheese, and it is six ounces, so if I say “Pepper Jack cheese”, then I bought the only one they had.
Yes, I know with certain items, there are better LC choices, but remember, we are on an extremely tight budget and buying the $1 package for a reason. Here is the list:

John Morrell smoked sausage (this is a little carby, but it’s divided up between two meals), I bought the larger package. They have two varieties, one with tiny wieners and one with big sausages. Go for the bigger sausage.
Two packages of country ham bits: There are two types of country ham there, a 3 oz pack of slices, but the ends and pieces package has 5+ oz for the same price.
Two cans of Libby’s green beans: The green beans are actually .79 each, so if you want to buy 3, you will be slightly over $25. There are also regular coupons for these and DT does take coupons.
2 dozen eggs: YMMV here. Occasionally, they have dozen egg sizes. I’ve seen 8 packs and 6 packs before, even just last week with last week’s menu.
A 6oz tub of cream cheese: I needed sour cream, but after looking at the ingredients list on the sour cream, it is “sour creme” and I opted for the smaller tub of cream cheese. More on this later.
Bag of frozen peppers and onions
Bag of frozen cauliflower/broccoli “Winter Mix”
1 jar of jalapenos
1 jar of green olives
Small jar of salsa
A jar of minced garlic
Can of Ro-tel
2 pouches of shredded mozzarella
A pouch of crumbled feta
One block of pepper jack cheese
One frozen sausage chub (12 oz btw)
A package of frozen salad shrimp
2 packages of frozen chicken thighs
A package of pepperoni (they have a couple of brands, get the biggest one)
One can of chopped clams (These have sugar on the ingredients list, but so did 80% of the ones I looked at in other stores, so if this bothers you, get a pack of frozen fish, instead or two packs of salad shrimp.)

From last week, you may have some leftover pickles, black olives, rinaldi sauce, and mayo.
Remember, each meal is designed on the premise that you take half for lunch the next day. Do your own nutritional counts. And hopefully you have some saved bacon fat and/or butter.

I cooked most of this on Sunday and finished up before I left for work on Monday, so I’m going by that in steps. I’ll try to put it in a good order for those of you who are afraid of leftovers, but we had a really intense schedule this week, and I was thankful for all of the dishes to choose from that were simple, heat and eat things.

Sunday A.M.: Put the chicken thighs in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a simmer for about an hour. Take them out, pick the meat off and refrigerate it, and toss the bones back in the water. Be VERY careful when you pull off the skin and set it aside in big pieces. Let the bones simmer all day with a lid on and it will make a nice stock for our seafood chowder. Refrigerate the stock after straining it if you don’t make your soup right away.

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Take the cream cheese and put it in a microwavable bowl. I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t know if this would work, but it did. I wanted sour cream for 3 recipes, but I didn’t like the looks of their sour cream. I nuked the cream cheese till it was stirrable, then I whisked in about 3-4 tablespoons of water until it was the consistency of a combo of sour cream/thick yogurt. It really turned out well, and was enough for what I needed.

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Put 7 eggs on to boil. Snacks this week will be deviled eggs, pickles, and olives. To make your deviled eggs, use 3-4 T of mayo, S&P, and a little diced pickle if you want.

Add a little bacon fat to a skillet and heat it up. Carefully place the flat pieces of chicken skin in the fat, salt and pepper them, and fry them in the fat till they are crispy, turning occasionally. You will never waste perfectly good chicken skin again.

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Breakfast for the week:

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Slice the sausage chub into 8 patties and cook them. Set one aside and put the other 7 in a container for breakfast. I used the sausage fat to scramble 7 eggs and put them in the same container. You can add half a cup of thawed, frozen pepper mix if you want. Breakfast for the week is done. I add mayo to my eggs every day. I like it. The squirt bottle of Calders brand mayo from the Dollar Tree is small, but has no added sugar.

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Sunday:
Southern style ham and green beans

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Put both cans of the green beans in a decent sized pot, open the two packs of ham and break the pieces up, add some pepper (The ham is pretty salty, so I skipped the salt). You can take the pepper mix here and pick out some of the onions if you want and add them, but that was a PITA, so I gave up and just went outside and foraged a few onions, chopped them, and tossed them in. I’d say it was about 1/2 a cup. Simmer this on the stove until the liquid has practically all cooked out and the green beans have no nutrition left. Pick out most of the ham, then divide the green beans in half. You need one half for a different meal (I probably would have bought that third can of green beans, because these are so good). Add the ham back in and split the whole thing between two dishes, or just put half the ham on your plate and the other half in a dish for the next lunch. Set aside a couple of good sized pieces of ham to put on your pizza (along with that one sausage patty) later this week. This one looks kind of gross but it tastes good, so, whatever.

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Monday:
Crustless pizza

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Get two round cake pans and line them with parchment paper. Add 1/4 cup of the leftover Rinaldi sauce to each pan and spread it around.

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Top each with 1/4 cup of thawed pepper mixture, sliced olives, chop the ham and the sausage patty you saved earlier and add them, and chop up the pepperoni, dividing it between the pans. Put a pouch of mozzarella on each one and bake at 425 for about 10 minutes, till the cheese has melted and it looks like this:

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Tuesday:
Mexican chicken

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Take half of the chicken you picked off the thighs (half should be able 2 cups), give it a rough chop, and put it into a bowl. Drain the liquid from the rotel, set aside half a cup, and add the rest to the bowl. Put in about half of the cream cheese mix that we discussed above, a teaspoon or so of minced garlic, chop a few of the jalapenos, and add 1/4 cup of thawed, frozen pepper mix. Stir this all together and put it in a baking dish, then shred about 2/3 of the pepper jack cheese and put it on top. Bake at 350 for 20 mins or till hot and the cheese is bubbly. While your cheese grater is out, grate the other 1/3 of the cheese, but set it aside with the Ro-tel. That way, you only have to wash your cheese grater once. Divide the cooked dish in half, and top with salsa and jalapenos if you want. If you feel like you need a veggie side, heat up 1/2 cup or so of the broccoli from the frozen mix and top with butter. Leave the cauliflower in the bag. You will need it later.

Wednesday:
Smoked sausage and green beans

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Slice the JM sausages and  cook them in your skillet till they are hot and heat half the leftover green beans to go with them. Put half the sausages in a dish with the rest of the beans to have later.

Thursday:
Seafood chowder

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Take that chicken broth you made (There should be about two cups) and heat it back up on med-low. Before it gets really hot, put a cup in a bowl and carefully whisk in most of the cream cheese mix. Leave about 1-2 Tablespoons in the container, but this is going to make your soup nice and creamy. To this, even more carefully, whisk in two raw egg yolks till you can’t see pieces of yolk in it. You can save the whites for tomorrow if you want. While the broth is heating up, pick out 2 cups of cauliflower from the frozen mix, thaw it out a little, and give it a few chops. Add this to your broth. I added some chopped, wild onions, too. Once the cauliflower is hot, add the clams, juice and all. (If you bought fish, skip this step and instead, cook the fist in a skillet, chop it up and add it at the end). Now, add the creamy liquid and whisk it until it thickens a bit. The egg yolks are what will thicken this up. Don’t forget S&P.
Once this is hot, stir in the thawed, cooked salad shrimp.

This is really great as leftovers, but soup usually is.

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Friday:
Three egg juevos rancheros omelets

You will have six eggs left. Make your omelets and fill them with the Ro-tel you set aside, about 1/4 cup each of the frozen pepper mix, and half each of the leftover pepper jack cheese. Top with salsa and peppers. There really is a method to my madness.

If you don’t know how to make omelets, check youtube. Mine are never extremely pretty, but always tasty. This one has the two egg whites added to it from when I used the yolks for soup.

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Saturday:
Mediterranean chicken with olives and feta

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Take the rest of the chicken, give it a rough chop, add some sliced olives (both black and green if you still have any black), add the last bit of the cream cheese mix you made (It’s sort of yogurty) a teaspoon of minced garlic, and the feta cheese. Always remember to salt and pepper.

I think this tastes really good, but I LOVE feta cheese. However, it smells horrible. Like, really horrible, like sweaty socks. If you’re sensitive to smells, you should make a double batch of Mexican chicken or something. I took some to work with a side of frozen winter mix.

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If you cook most of this on Sunday, you can mix and match throughout the week so you’re not eating the same thing twice in a row. That’s what I did with this menu. The only time consuming bit was making the chicken stock, and that was just a pot simmering on the back of the stove all day.

There are less expensive things you can do, but it involves certain strategies like having available freezer space, watching sales, sometimes shopping different stores, eating eggs until you’re sick of them, and maybe having less of a variety in your meals. We are going to cover those things as time goes by. Low carb should always be affordable and easy, esp if you have limited funds and limited time, but your good health should never have to be sacrificed in the name of cost.

n’t forget to fFind me on Facebook  set a bookmark, or subscribe to my emails in the upper right corner. I’m really looking forward to making, testing, and sharing more of these menus, and extreme budget recipes really are one of my passions.

Wow!

I just wanted to take a minute and talk about blogging. I’ve had this site up for a while, and write something here and there, but lately, it just seems like I’ve lost my muse. One thing, though, that I am always, always, passionate about, is eating well for less. See, I love good food. I love budget ideas, I love helping people, and I really love grocery stores and ads. It is really pretty easy to eat well on a tight budget and still eat for your health.

My last post blew this blog up!

Honestly, I knew it would be popular, but I had no idea just HOW popular. That’s where you guys all come in. I had such a fun weekend over the Dollar Tree post that I made up a whole new seven-day menu and that’s what I’m eating this week on the test run. So, that will go up, probably Sunday night. In the meantime, I’m learning a little more about blogging.

For example, I ran out of server space and had to call my host to buy more. That was TOTALLY unexpected! Now I have multiple people who care for me and my family insisting that I look into methods of monetizing. I feel a little overwhelmed, but I love learning new things, and that’s what I’m doing.

Up until this point, blogging has been kind of boring. I’m sure that’s why so many bow out over time, and why I’ve been sporadic about it. But for me, knowing that there are people out there who are reading my material and being helped by it(!!!) is huge and an incredible motivator. I have SO many things I want to share about eating well for less that I can’t even get all the words out at once.

So, maybe I’ve found my muse.
It’s you people.

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Budget Low Carb $25 Seven Day, Three Meals Daily Dollar Tree Menu for One

Pretend you’re broke, or maybe you are. Maybe you paid all your bills this week and you’re left with $50. All you have in your fridge is some butter or a saved jar of bacon fat, a few packets of leftover soy sauce from the Chinese restaurant, and some salt and pepper. Do you run out and grab a few pounds of rice and beans and some Ramen or do you do your best to make yourself up a menu that fits your low carb lifestyle? My hope for you is that you pick the latter choice. I also hope this blog entry helps inspire you to see that low cost low carbing is possible.

That being said, this is a menu for one. It will make three meals a day for a week, based on the idea that you eat half for dinner and save the other half for lunch the next day. The recipes could be doubled, or they could be shared as just dinners with a second person. Personally, I found, as I cooked and ate the food, that it was more than I needed to satisfy my hunger. In fact, I bought and set aside particular items to have as snacks, and didn’t eat them. You also need access to a dollar tree that sells cooler/frozen foods, the bigger the selection, the  better. These are items that are sold in the Dollar Tree stores around Birmingham, and they sell similar items in other places.

Before I start, I want to say a couple of things.

I picked Dollar Tree for a few reasons. Out of curiosity, because there are some cool, LC items you can get there, and because sometimes when you’re broke, you don’t have the gas money for going to three or four stores to buy the sale items there. That’s how broke I’ve been.

This is not a Paleo menu, it is not an organic menu, and it is not a gourmet menu. There may even be some gluten in there somewhere. There are processed meats. Nothing is fresh. It’s a menu designed to get someone through a week on a $25 budget. If you need certain things, like coffee, creamer, and sweetener, you can find those at the Dollar Tree, but the creamer won’t be sugar free. They do sell half n half, which isn’t ideal because of the milk, but doesn’t have sugar. So, if you have to have those things, throw in three extra bucks.

The recipes are simple, easy to cook, and taste good.
Snacks are pork rinds, sunflower seeds, olives, pickles, and string cheese.
You could make all of these on Sunday if you wanted, and then package them for the week.

Some of them will make leftovers, not a huge amount, but I actually ate this exact food for a week and I didn’t go hungry. I didn’t even need snacks most days. It all depends on your appetite. There will also be some items that you have left in your pantry to roll over into your next week’s menu.

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I don’t mind foraging some, so just for funsies, I went outside and cut a handful of those wild onions that grow everywhere to add to some of the recipes for bulk and for some mild, onion flavor. I like them, and they were free. However! Unless you know for certain that you have onions, don’t try this at home.

Please do your own nutritional counts.

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My grocery purchases were these:

One bag of pork rinds
Two bags of frozen veggie mix
One bag of frozen peppers and onions
One bag of frozen spinach
One package of frozen tilapia filets
One chub of frozen breakfast sausage
One two pack of frozen chicken legs
Two 3 oz packages of shredded mozzarella (Make sure it’s real cheese, not the fake stuff)
One 3 oz package of shredded cheddar (again, real)
One three pack of string cheese
3 half dozen cartons of eggs

A bottle of real mayonnaise
A package of walnuts
A jar of pickles
A can of mackerel
A can of tuna
A bag of shelled sunflower seeds
A jar of Rinaldi pizza sauce (read your labels! Rinaldi does not have added sugar.)
A shaker of parmesan (get the smaller one, the big can is “cheese product”)
A can of black olives
A package of pepperoni slices

Sunday:

Breakfast first.
You want your breakfast sausage, a six pack of eggs, and a cup of the frozen pepper mix.
Brown the sausage and scramble the eggs with the peppers, the stir it all together and keep it in a bowl. Dip some out each morning and heat it up for breakfast. Easy.

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Next up: Tuna salad

Take your tuna, add 3 Tablespoons of mayo, add some cut up pickles, the package of walnuts, and salt and pepper. Boil two eggs.

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Cook about two cups of the veggie mix you picked (these are variable, depending on your selection) I used the California blend because it was the only broccoli/cauli combo they had, then I picked out the carrots. Put half the tuna, one egg, and half the veggies for dinner, and pack the other half for tomorrow.

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Monday:
Spinach Florentine

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Preheat oven to 400.
Thaw the whole package of spinach, put it in a mixing bowl with about 1/4 cup of mayo and 1/4 cup of parmesan, plus some salt and pepper. Put it in a small baking dish and crack four eggs on top. Salt and pepper the eggs, put in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. You could shorten the baking time to 10-12 minutes if you wished for a runny yolk, but I like my eggs yolks firm. Serve half per meal for two separate meals. I had some sunflower seeds for a snack.

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Tuesday
Stir Fry

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There will probably be two small tilapia fillets in the package of fish. Cook them in a skillet and set them aside. If you have some bacon fat or a little butter, add that and some salt and pepper and dump half the bag of stir fry mix, minus about a half cup, into the pan and cook it till the veggies are soft and no longer frozen. Split it between two dishes, add a string cheese for a little extra protein and fat, and enjoy.

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Wednesday
Pizza cups
This was, by far, my favorite, and it made three meals worth of food.

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Preheat oven to 350
Take the pepperoni (notice that I bought the large, sandwich sized, slices. This is important.) and put one in each well of a twelve cup muffin tin. Add a Tablespoon or so of the Rinaldi pizza sauce to the top of each one. If there were extra pepperonis, chop them up and add a few to each up. Slice a few olives and add to each cup, I added some wild onions, you could get that bag of frozen pepper mix and add a few bits of chopped pepper and onion from it here. Put a little parmesan on them and top with the shredded mozzarella and bake for 15 or so minutes till they look right. And by right, I mean like this. Make a cup of your frozen veggies to eat with them.

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Thursday
Fish croquettes

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Open the fish and drain the liquid. I don’t bother with picking out the bones.
Empty the fish into a big bowl. Add the bag of shredded cheddar (the dollar tree bags are 3-4 ounce sized), add two eggs, about 1/3 cup of mayo, crush enough pork rinds finely to equal half a cup of crumbs, salt and pepper to taste, and I included about half a cup of wild onions. Mix it all together and shape the mix into three or four patties and cook them in a skillet till they have a nice crust on one side, then flip and do the same on the other side. I used a little bacon grease with these.

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When these were finished, I tossed a cup of frozen veggies into the skillet and cooked them in the leftover fat. Remember to divide your meal into two dishes.

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Friday
Peppers and eggs

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This recipe is as simple as it sounds. You heat and cook the peppers in your skillet, then break the eggs in and scramble them together. I learned this from a youtube show about depression era cooking.

Saturday
Chicken soup

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Take the two pack of chicken legs and put them in a medium pot first thing in the morning. Cover them with water and boil for maybe an hour, take them out, take the meat off the bones and refrigerate it, beak the bones in half and put them back in the water and simmer them all day on low with the lid on. It won’t be an extremely rich chicken broth, but it will make a nice enough soup broth. After 3-4 hours, strain it to get any bone pieces out, add the chicken back in, add about 1/3 cup of that pizza sauce for some flavor, then add about 2-3 cups of whatever vegetables you have left from the frozen veggies you’ve been eating on all week. Season with salt and pepper, and you have enough soup to last a couple more meals.

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By now, you may still have a few leftovers, like olives, pickles, mayo, frozen peppers, parmesan, pizza sauce, and sunflower seeds. You can roll these over into a few other items for the next week, and then you can buy a few other things, like garlic powder, a little bottle of cooking oil, etc. As you work these menus, you will find that you have more you can use per week, and as a result, have more variety.

Special Needs Dentist in Birmingham

One thing that was hard for us when we moved here was finding a dentist. We tried a few places and each one would act like Superman was much younger than he was. They would have ceiling TVs that played preschool shows and such, and so we kept looking because he was 10-12 ish and would always leave unhappy.

And really…when did it become standard for children to always have to have a screen? TV everywhere, even in cars…smart phones, tablets, and so on. When are kids allowed to just dream? That’s another post. This is about dental care.

UAB has a clinic called the Sparks clinic. It is a division of Civitan International. They offer a wide array of services there, from the PEERS program for social skills training for Autie kids to a clinic that does diagnosis (it’s got a really long waiting list, so if you suspect, get on the list asap), to a special needs dentist. We were really happy when we found the dental clinic. It’s also not uncommon to see flyers about there that are for studies that our kids might be able to participate in. There is also a room in the front office that has racks all over the wall that are filled with flyers and booklets regarding area services.

The dental clinic is small. I think it seats two patients. It is staffed by dental students from the school, and overseen by a doctor who may, at times, come out and chat with you. Teeth cleanings are only $45! They also accept Medicaid and insurances, but 45 bucks is awesome! It totally keeps tooth cleaning affordable for our loved ones as they age if they do not have dental coverage.

The clinic is able to accommodate a variety of disabilities.
They also have a clinic there called “The Adult Down Syndrome Clinic” but since we don’t have Down Syndrome, you would have to call them to find out what services they offer.

So far, we do really like their dental. Everyone does a great job, so if you’re looking for a dentist for your special needs person, give them a call. I have listed the website below.

UAB Civitan-Sparks

PFI Classes , an Update! Graduating Improv 301

It’s been a while since Superman started comedy classes.
He doesn’t drive, so I sit in on a bunch of them. I try to kind of sit off to the side and not interrupt, and read a book…a cookbook, cause they’re a perfect match to my attention span.

It’s been fun, trying not to listen, like getting a free show every week. Watching his class learn to work together has been fun, and seeing them progress with their funny has been good, too. I’m probably supposed to mention how great Ty, the instructor, was, here, in making it all come together.

That is Ty, on the right.

That is Ty, on the right.

Something was happening in that picture. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but something was coming together in his head and I remember thinking “He’s really getting it.” He was also making eye contact and engaging conversation, which is a big deal for people with Autism.

As of today, the last day of July 2015, he has been through 3 eight-week rounds of classes.
In that time, he did an audition, took in an all day Saturday cram session, and just this week, performed on stage with his classmates. I really don’t think he has an ounce of stage fright. In fact, the stage show provided a very sensory rich environment, lights, crowd, noise, loud music, after show time, everyone is expected to hang around and mingle, and he didn’t bat an eye. He also didn’t wear his earmuffs. Making sure he was there to do his part was more important to him than acknowledging his sensory issues. Beyond huge. After all, the show must go on.

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This is a pic of David. He is a founder of PFI. He doesn’t teach the lower level classes, so the newer students don’t see him often. If I remember right, I think Ty said he teaches the grad level classes, which come at different times later.

I’m not sure what I will do with my time when SM starts those. I think, eventually, he will drive himself around, but it may still be a few years, and that’s OK! Until then, I will keep doing what I need to do to help him realize his dreams. Some of our young people with Autism end up not driving at all, and I am not going to pressure him if he’s not ready. As far as I’m concerned, he is doing GREAT! He’s really come a long way from that non-verbal four year old who was trapped inside of himself.

At the end of level 3, the students do a show together. They get up on stage at the Rare Martini and do skits in front of a crowd and it’s like what they have been doing all along in class only better.

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All that aside, now I’m going to go into a few things from the perspective of one who has a loved one with Autism. Improv theater is a very social thing, which seems at odds with Autism, considering that it is a communication disorder and many Auties (Superman included)  struggle with reading others’ facial expressions, body languages, verbal inflections, etc., everything that we typical people learn as children without being taught. They also often struggle with social situations and understanding how to participate appropriately in conversations. Pair that up with major sensory dysfunction, and you have someone who constantly struggles in ways that we can only imagine.

(They are also, often, unfailingly honest. If you want a friend who skips the BS and tells you the truth, pick an Autie but make sure you aren’t easily offended or quick to get your feelings hurt.)

Back to the social aspect. For these shows, the actors all work as a team. They do skits based off whatever gets thrown at them, So, for the last year, I’ve been observing Superman in that environment. I’ve noticed several things.

His self-confidence is up. He’s doing more things for himself that require social interaction like handling his pharmacy things, calling his doctors, making his own purchases, etc.

He’s let go of a few things that we have previously said aren’t very funny. One that comes to mind is his “falsetto” voice when he pretends to be me. I’m not going to say that he doesn’t still do certain things anyway, but they covered the falsetto voice in class one night, and he listened. He soaks that info up like a sponge.

He is starting to pay attention to people in public. For example, a couple of his PEERS support people came to the class performance and he noticed that one of them had on a pretty, red dress.

He is not necessarily engaging strangers, but he’s no longer spazzing when they stand too close, try to engage him, try to speak to us, etc

He is accepting changes more smoothly. I’m not saying that when the microwave handle broke off in his hand, that he didn’t freak out, but he came back and said “There is a different way to open the microwave.”

So, all things considered, it’s almost like he’s getting therapy every week, but it’s not boring therapy that might be too easy for him. It fits him well, and I’m looking forward to watching him progress.

And by the way? Ty really was awesome at making it all come together.

 

 

 

Adventures in Gardening…

I come from a long line of green thumbs. My grandparents owned a small farm that they used to make enough food to feed themselves and often us. My granddad sold produce at the farmer’s market. There were always fields of corn and potatoes and a blueberry farm with about 20 varieties of berries for people to pick or we would pick for them. One year, he grew peanuts. I believe Jimmy Carter may have been president at the time. I would walk rows with my grandmom and help her pick the RIGHT sized cucumbers, squash, peas, etc. See, I always wanted to pick the tiny ones because they were cute! She would always pull off a small one, wipe the dirt off, and tell me to eat it, skin and all, so I did. I really think that may have been the start of my love for plain vegetables with nothing on them. Sometimes, she had a salt shaker in her pocket, and we would salt them.

Granddad would employ child labor during the summer months when my cousins were down to be with my uncle. He had plenty of kids at his disposal. We picked berries (50 cents a gallon!), dug potatoes, rode en masse on the back of his tractor to the field, and worked.

And we learned.

So, it’s been a surprise that the gardening gene may have skipped a generation when it comes to me. I tend to kill plants from neglect. I want a low-maintenance garden, and I want organic. I grew a fair enough garden in Arkansas once, but I didn’t do much with it.

Maybe it’s because I wear so many other hats that I just forget to wear my gardening hat. So, I set out this year, at 43, to change that. I.Want.To.Grow.My.Own.Food. I also want my kids to grow their own food. I want them to know how to be self-sufficient, even if they never NEED to be. I’ve had to replace some things, though, because I gave away a bunch of my gardening things when we moved here. Worst advice ever? “It’s cheaper to just replace it than it is to move it!” Live and learn…

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When we moved in here, there were all these great tubs in the yard, so I started with those. I thought I would try containers, in hopes of them keeping out the neighbor’s dog.

I don’t know if okra will do well in a small, black pot, or eggplant, peppers, or tomatoes. I’ll know by the end of this season, though.

I have some cinder blocks I got off craigslist a while back, so I’ve been using them to frame out certain areas. I have 25 or so more now, so I’m going to reframe and redo all of it and probably get rid of the tubs entirely at the end of the season. I really want to do as much recycling and repurposing as possible. I like to watch the curbs for usable items people toss, like this wood, for example. It was brand new, and in the throwaway pile. I want a gutter garden for winter lettuces. Google gutter gardens. Now all I need to find are some gutters. Here is a pic of Mr. Incredible, saying “I already have a design worked out!” or, as I call, it, talking about how he’s not going to mess anything up.

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I also made a great trellis for my cucumbers using some old chicken wire and tent poles.

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And this was our first bite…one small tomato. So far, the youngest doesn’t appreciate the flavor and richness of a garden grown tomato. I mean, I guess they’re rich..I don’t eat tomatoes that aren’t cooked, canned, or dried, and even then, I have my limits.

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Soon, we will have zucchini. I bought this plant from the small, local nursery. It has thrived like you just wouldn’t believe. The plants I bought from the big box stores under the label of a well known national plant grower have really had limited success.

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See how lush and large the one plant is? It’s uncanny.

As for teaching the boys self-sufficiency, they are on their way. Superman is growing a Bhut Jolokia pepper and some catnip for our cats. He may never love getting his hands in the dirt. As far as he is concerned, there is a certain amount of risk involved with being outside. There are  mosquitoes, people, and germs. Plus, it’s hot, and he doesn’t tolerate heat well. I’m going to see if I can get him involved with our winter plants.

The youngest, though, is learning through work. When we were at the nursery and he came around the corner with a nine pack of sweet potato plants, I couldn’t tell him no, even though I had no idea where we would put them. We ended up putting them in pots, hopefully, we will get a few off of them.

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As for me, I’ve got cucumbers! And my bush cuke has about 40 on it. Hopefully, they don’t all produce at once.

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There was another one, but I picked it, wiped the dirt off, and ate it, skin and all. I learned a lot from Grandmom.

Budget Low Carb…Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill and Still Eat Healthy

I’ve been in LC circles for several years now and one question comes up all the time…”How do I keep doing this when the food is so expensive

This question is always met with a variety of answers, from helpful suggestions to the tough love type…or, because I try to always think the best, what I want to think is the tough love type. These answers include things like “Processed foods are more expensive than basic meats and veggies. ” to “The toll that eating that CRAP takes on your health makes the cost of REAL FOOD worth it!” to people who insist that you should only buy organic.

The thing is, if you’re used to just going to the grocery store and filling up a basket of food and buying it, then the addition of more perishables may well cause some budgeting issues.

If you’re used to spending very, very little because you don’t have a lot of money in your grocery budget and you and your family eat a ton of PB&J sandwiches, cheap mac and cheese, rice, and beans, then it probably is going to cost more.

If you read a bunch of blogs where they make these amazing baked items with recipes that call for a lot of things you’ve never heard of or remind you of your high school science lab, and you feel like you need to do that, too, then it is going to cost more. Keep reading those blogs because you will learn from them, but not because you are going to start baking with almond flour and coconut flour and using these things that you can only find on Amazon at fifteen bucks a pop, but don’t be afraid to get familiar with prices and pick one up every once in a while.

Remember this…KISS
Keep It Simple, Sweetheart
Most of our meals are meats and veggies and that’s it, though I did invest a little of our tax refund on some things I don’t normally buy.

You can eat very well on low carb on a tight budget. One thing I’ve found that works for me is to avoid America’s largest retailer. There are still a few things that I buy at Walmart, but only very few. Every week, you should get a set of ads for your local grocery stores. They will normally have some deals included that are called “Loss Leaders”. Loss leaders are designed to get you in the store and they will normally be prominently displayed on the front page. I buy what is on sale, then I plan my menu around that. If cabbage is 3 pounds for a dollar, I buy a couple of cabbages. They last a long time in the crisper and can be used for many things, from unstuffed cabbage rolls to coleslaw. If ten pound bags of chicken thigh quarters are on sale for .59 a pound, I buy one of those. I might buy two, and seal a bunch up with my Foodsaver and put them in the deep freeze. Thigh quarters are my favorite cut of chicken. I buy bone-in breasts, the bone adds flavor and I like that crispy skin!

If you don’t have a deep freeze, you might consider investing in one. I bought mine about 10 years ago at the Salvation Army for $125. My freezer has enough meat in it that it doesn’t matter what is on sale, we will have a nice variety, even if I buy something at a rock bottom price and stock up.

It seems pricey, but a half ham is a good buy. Only buy them when they are on sale. You might spend ten bucks, but you will get a good meal off it, plus leftover ham to have with your breakfasts and package up a few things for the freezer. These are good for casseroles, stir fry, egg scrambles, salads, and soup.

A whole turkey is equally good. Off season, they run about .99/lb here in Alabama, but closer to Thanksgiving, they will be about .70/lb. You can roast the turkey, again, have a great meal, some leftovers, packs for the freezer, then make soup broth.

Frozen vegetables can be an option if they’re on sale, and often have coupons available.
Cheeses often have coupons available, and again, something is always on sale. It doesn’t have to be donkey cheese, plain old blocks from the cheese aisle work fine. Butter and cream? It’s ok to use the store brand. Oil? I buy olive oil on sale with a coupon. The important thing is that you pay attention to your labels and make sure you’re not ingesting things like sugar.

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So, buy what’s on sale, don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing, and keep your meals simple.

I guess the point I am wanting to make, and budgeting is going to be a regular topic of mine, is to do the best you can with what you have. If you see people making these crazy expensive dishes, remember that you don’t have to do that, and you don’t owe anyone any explanation about why you aren’t and there is no need to feel bad about it.

That’s because we are all on the same path, and that is towards good health.