Sunday, September 28, 2014

Apple Pie Muffins

September was so busy it slipped by in a whir. I started a new job as a librarian and art teacher at a Montessori school and little man started kindergarten at the same school. Unfortunately, he will remember kindergarten as the year he broke his arm. Yep, ended his second week by falling off the monkey bars and breaking his arm. I was nearby in the school library when it happened. He's been in his cast for almost a month now, and we have at least another couple weeks to go. His accident also happened the day before soccer season was to start, so instead of a busy fall full of soccer practice and games our calendar is full of doctors visits. 

The weather is changing here in south Texas as shorter, autumn days take over. It doesn't always mean cooler temperatures, but we have had some beautiful weather this past week. It is the season of apples and pumpkins. While I love just about everything pumpkin, I also wanted to include apples in our fall menu. Little one loves apples, but not apple peels, so these are perfect for his taste buds. Gooey apple pieces inside a cinnamon explosion and topped with crunchy goodness. I made the first batch full size muffins and the rest as mini muffins that I am freezing. I am actually looking forward to Monday morning so I can sink my teeth into one of these. Ah, and with my morning coffee I think I'll be in heaven.

Apple Pie Muffins

  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 C buttermilk
  • 1/2 C butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 C packed brown sugar
  • 2 C peeled and chopped Granny Smith Apples
  • 1/2 C packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4 C rolled oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 Tbsp melted butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper liners. In a large bowl mix together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, add brown sugar and softened butter. Mix well, then add egg, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients until just mixed. Fold in chopped apple pieces. 

In a separate bowl, mix ingredients for topping. Pour batter into muffin tins, filling to top. Sprinkle topping over each one. Bake in oven for 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. For mini muffins, bake 15 - 20 minutes.

Cool and store at room temperature.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Overnight Oats - A Quick Healthy Breakfast

It has been a long, slow summer full of staying up later than we should and unrushed mornings sleeping in. Sometimes breakfast was more like brunch and since most mornings we didn't have to rush out the door, I had the time to cook our favorites, including banana pancakes, which I make often and just realized with surprise I have never shared with you. Wow, blogger fail. Anyway, we are back to work/school this week and I have been trying to figure out easy and fast breakfast recipes to help mornings run smoother. We are going to need all the help we can get until everybody is adjusted to our new routine. Nobody but the cat is a morning person in this house.

I've been seeing recipes for overnight oats all over Pinterest. This past week I decided to give them a try. The little man, to my delight, ate the oats all up two days in a row. I am also cooking up some freezer breakfasts, which I will share in another post, but the overnight oats will also be a great choice for our busy mornings. Just make up a batch the night before, grab out of the refrigerator in the morning, stir, and eat. Everyone gets their own grab and go jar. The flavor variations are nearly endless, too. We have enjoyed vanilla strawberry and blueberry cinnamon flavored overnight oatmeal so far. I think I will experiment with an apple walnut next. Little one loves apples. Oh, and with fall just around the corner, a pumpkin flavored one is a must.

Strawberry Vanilla Overnight Oats

  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds or flax seeds
  • 1 tsp honey 
  • handful of fresh strawberries, sliced
Mix ingredients in a quart mason jar or other lidded container. Store in refrigerator overnight. May eat cold, or if you prefer, heat in the microwave. Enjoy straight from the jar. 

Blueberry Cinnamon Overnight Oats

  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds or flax seeds
  • 1-2 tsp honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • handfull of blueberries, approximately 1/4 cup ( I used frozen wild blueberries)
Mix ingredients together in a jar. Refrigerate overnight. Stir and eat straight from the jar. May be heated in a microwave if desired. 

I see so many possibilities for overnight oats. If you change the milk to a nut milk and the yogurt to a coconut or soy yogurt, and sweeten with agave or maple syrup, these would be a great vegan breakfast as well. I know some recipes call for steel cut oats, but you don't want to use instant or quick cook oats or they may be too runny. If you decide to experiment with flavors and ingredients, let me know what yummy combinations you come up with. I'd love to try them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Apple Cider Vinegar to Treat Common Warts

While I have, like most women, at times held harsh views toward my body, I have always liked my hands. Growing up I was told I had piano hands. As an adult, I was told how strong they are. But a couple years ago, while I was going through one of the most stressful times of my life, these annoying bumps began to appear. By this spring I had seven warts. One located on the outside of my index finger had become so large and painful I couldn't close my fingers together. It was embarrassing to have the young students I worked with asking me what was wrong with my hands. I didn't have health insurance and couldn't afford the cost of having them removed. Finally, I searched the internet. My first search took me to the duct tape method, which worked horribly for me. Plus, I felt a little silly walking around with duct taped fingers. The second method involved an expensive (at least for me) essential oil preparation I didn't even try. Finally, I stumbled on a blog post about using apple cider vinegar, something I regularly have in my cabinets.

I didn't take any before pics of my warts (yes, I'm just that sensitive about them), but if you really must see a photo and would like to find out more about common warts visit WebMD.

This simple method involves soaking the cotton pad of a band aid and wrapping over the wart, leaving covered overnight. Alternatively, you can soak a piece of a cotton ball and hold on with duct tape. During the day remove the band aid covering to allow area to dry out. The first thing you will notice is the wart turning black. Keep reapplying the band aid until the black area scabs and peels off.

During this process, which can take at least two weeks, you will need to file down the dead skin that covers the wart. Once the blackened core of the wart begins to fall off, avoid picking at it and allow it to fall off by itself. I picked at the first one that started to fall off and it left a small scar were the skin tore. Also, before you decide to try this method of wart removal know that the warts will likely become very sore when you first start using the vinegar. In fact, for some people it can be down right painful. Because of this, if you have more than one wart I advise you to not treat them all at once. You are basically burning the warts off with an acid. 

Overall, I am pleased with this simple, effective, low cost treatment you can do at home. I did experience some pain, especially with the largest wart. I consider myself fairly pain tolerant. After all, I gave birth to my youngest son without any pain medications. But I awoke in the night with such a throbbing pain I found myself ripping off the band aid like it was some predator attached to my finger. None of the other smaller warts caused me much pain, just some annoying tenderness.

Please note, this treatment is only for common or plantar warts. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Air Dry Baking Soda Clay: Five Ingredients for Summer Fun Part 2

Remember those five ingredients I talked about in my last post? We are going to dig into them again to make up some air dry clay.

You are going to need the baking soda, corn starch, and, if desired, food coloring. This mixes into a nice cold porcelain type clay that is soft and easy to work with for adults and kids.

Baking Soda Clay

  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cup cold water
Combine everything in a medium nonstick pan and mix until smooth. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring. Cook over low heat until mixture thickens into a similar texture as mashed potatoes. Remove from heat and allow to cool, covering with a lid or wet cloth. When it has cooled it is ready to sculpt.

We hand formed it and rolled out a slab to cut out shapes for necklace charms and ornaments. If you roll it, be sure not to roll it too thin.

If you make ornaments or charms, use a toothpick to create the hole before air drying. We also added the etchings while it was wet, though it is soft enough you may be able to do it after they are dry. If you need to stick pieces together you can dip your finger in a bowl of water to wet the edges, but avoid getting the clay too moist. 

Since we are having triple digit temperatures here, I set the unpainted finished shapes outside to dry. The smaller ornaments were ready to handle within 24 hours, but the larger pieces should have sat for two days. Once they are dry, they are easily painted using acrylic craft paint. We painted our pieces and, for extra durability, added a thick coat of Mod Podge to seal them with. 

I am starting a new job as the official art teacher at a Montessori school next week. I'm thinking this might be a great alternative for my students to experience using clay, since we won't have a kiln. Plus, it will be easy on the art budget. I will have to do a test run on cooking up larger batches. 

This, by far, was my favorite project using the handful of household supplies we had on hand. I think they turned out beautifully, don't you?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

5 Ingredients for Indoor Summer Fun

It's hot here in south Texas. So hot you can blister your bare feet walking to the mailbox. Too hot for playing outside or mowing, though my neighbors wish I would. I keep thinking about getting a big spotlight to light up my yard so I can mow at night but not sure my neighbors would appreciate that either. But I'd rather be sitting here in the air conditioning blogging about my overgrown yard because it's just too hot! While we did enjoy a milder spring and summer than past years, inevitably the triple digits have arrived and it's time to find indoor fun for the little man. This month I've also been taking care of my grandson, meaning double the fun.

I also happen to be on a very tight entertaining budget. But with a quick trip to the dollar store and the grocery store I purchased the ingredients for not one, but three different fun play activities. You will need one box of borax, two boxes of baking soda, a box of corn starch, a couple bottles of cheap glue, and some food coloring, which I already had on hand.

Activity Number One: Slime

 Lots of ooey, gooey, squish fun!

I had to split it up into two bowls to keep the squabbling down. By the end of it my kitchen looked like a scene from Ghostbusters. 

To make your own slime, mix 1 teaspoon borax in one cup of water until it is dissolved. In another bowl, add 4 ounces glue and a half cup of water. Add desired amount of your choice of food coloring to the glue mixture. If desired, add some extra sparkle to the glue mixture with some glitter. I didn't have any on hand so we skipped the sparkle. 

Now the super fun part. Dump the borax mixture into the glue mixture and let the little hands dig in for the ultimate sensory experience. 

Activity Number Two: Bouncy Balls

I failed to get photos while we were making the bouncy balls, so I'm going to send you over to The 36th Avenue for their great, colorful tutorial using borax, glue, food coloring, and glue.

Next Time: Activity Number Three... Air Dry Baking Soda Clay

Didn't think I could sit here in the air conditioning blogging all day did you? Naw, going to go sit in an air conditioned movie theater instead...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Angel Food Cake French Toast Sticks

I saw a beautiful post about making french toast with angel food cake. The photo accompanying the post was absolutely mouth watering. If you are on Pinterest, you've probably seen it floating around. A whole angel food cake is a lot of food for one adult and one little boy. However, when I went to the store and saw the smaller angel food loaf, I realized I could still try out angel food cake french toast without having to fill up my freezer with tons of leftovers.

Wanting it to also be kid friendly, I decided to slice up my angel food loaf into sticks. Then I simply dunked the sticks into the egg mixture and fried in the skillet, turning to brown all sides. The egg mixture I typically use for making french toast is 2-3 eggs, a splash of half and half, a dash of cinnamon and/or nutmeg, and about a half teaspoon of vanilla extract. With the angel food french toast sticks I opted for the cinnamon. Instead of slathering the sticks with homemade syrup, I filled a small dish for dipping. Great fun for little fingers.Would also be yummy dipped in warm cinnamon apple sauce or apple butter, too.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Recycled Paper Cup Gnome Houses (or Faerie, if you prefer)

I was trying to figure out how to keep two young boys busy this afternoon and decided to drag out my odds and ends craft box and let them get creative.  I am a hoarder of small things; beads, buttons, broken jewelry, glass shards, craft leftovers. I have a dedicated shelf in my garage to put things like this. You never can tell when you are going to need a broken piece of mirror to complete an art project. And you know once you throw it away, next week you will wish you hadn't. So I just don't.

My intention was to hand over the stuff and see what they came up with. Somehow when we began digging through the stuff, one of them suggested he wanted to make a faerie house, but we really didn't have a structure to build around. I had some clay pots I thought would work, only the boys wanted doors because, well, the magical creatures had to have a way to get in. That's when I remembered the left over paper coffee cups I had under the counter. So I showed them how to cut out doors, then turned them loose.

Amadeo's has a sort of a tee-pee effect going on with the feather coming up off of it. I love the little basket hanging at the door. He also has a nice little sand path and, of course, a flag.

Ben really likes Sharpy marker, as you can see. The tree on the roof gives it a winter holiday feel. There is also a little key hanging by the door, but since the door doesn't lock I'm not sure what it goes to. Secret treasure, perhaps?

Mine has a gypsy/boho feel to it with the soft feathers, bright gems, and lavender buds. I love that look. I want to turn my whole bedroom into a boho escape.

The glass beads and heavier pieces had to be glued on with a hot glue gun, which I manned. They glued their finished cups to a recycled CD base, but I left mine free standing. When they were all finished I took them outside and sprayed them with a glossy clear acrylic to add some protection and hopefully adhere everything together. When they dried the boys put them in the potted plants on my patio. I think they add a wonderful splash of color, but I'm going to have to be extra careful when watering the plants tonight. I'm not sure how water proof they really are, even with the acrylic coating.

Oh, and if you are wondering what the difference between a gnome or faerie home is, well, according to Amadeo it depends on where you place it. Since faeries are creatures of the air and can fly, a faerie home needs to be hung like a bird house. Gnomes are ground creatures, so by placing the little house on the ground it becomes a gnome house. So, by default, since all of ours are in flower pots on the ground, we made gnome houses, not faerie houses. But the important thing is it kept one five year old and one six year old busy for most of the afternoon and the results were dazzling.

Friday, July 4, 2014

How to Survive Being Jobless

Photo By Kamil Lehmann
Being jobless can feel a lot like driving down the above road. It looks barren. No gas station around for miles and your gas gauge is leaning towards empty. The road just goes on and on. Unless you brought along a few good friends for company, you might start to feel like you are all alone. You may not even be able to get radio reception out here, let alone a cell phone signal.

Stop. Pull over the car. There is beauty in the barrenness. The road does lead somewhere. And you can survive. Reach your arms to the heavens, close your eyes, and breath the fresh cool air. Then, get your ass back in that car and drive with purpose and passion, because, honey, you are going to need that fire lit full force inside you!

This is my story, how I survived one of the hardest years of my life. It was my first year as a single parent. When little one's dad moved out I had to quit my job at a local dry cleaners, the only job I could find after being out of the workforce to care for little one. I had no child care and even if I did, I couldn't afford it on my meager earnings. I managed to sneak him to work with me for a couple weeks, but then the boss found out. I was getting no child support and had no idea how I was going to keep a roof over our heads. It was scary and stressful. In fact, I didn't see child support from little one's dad until court ordered during the divorce proceedings the following year.

I am stubborn, however. I wasn't about to let this ship sink. I needed to be resourceful and creative. I needed, above all else, to care for my boys. I look back in amazement now, shaking my head in wonder at how I managed to keep a roof over our heads, the lights on, and food in our stomachs. My earned income from standard employment that year totaled a whopping $7,000. Yep, you read that right. $7,000.

So on this day of independence I share my story. How did I do it?

Garage Sales

Facebook is a wonderful thing these days. It can allow you to have contact with a large number of people. I knew most people were probably like me when it came to cleaning out their homes of unwanted possessions. They piled them in a box in the garage. The box collected cobwebs. So I posted to Facebook that I was looking for garage sale donations and that I would gladly pick up.My hunch was correct. I was able to earn over $500 with that first sale, making up the difference I needed to pay rent. I have since held three more money making yard sales to supplement our income. Each one has made nearly $300. 


Anything donated to us that I knew was of some value was listed on Craigslist. I also scoured the house and listed anything of value I knew I could live without. As I am hoping to one day move into a small cottage or build my own tiny home, I was eager to begin downsizing anyway. I don't know how much I've made selling stuff off of Craigslist. I haven't kept a record of it. But it has made a difference. There were times I didn't know if I was going to afford gas for the car when someone made a purchase and I was able to fill the tank. 


If you are unfamiliar with ODesk, it is a place to find legitimate freelance work from home. While the work is legit, the pay varies greatly and isn't really the best way to earn a living, especially starting out. The biggest drawback is that you are competing internationally, meaning that workers in less developed parts of the globe can underbid you on jobs. However, I did find temporary blog writing assignments and worked for a shoe catalog company out of the UK posting to their Facebook and Pinterest pages. The best part was that I enjoyed doing it.

Got a Roommate

I learned a few things from this one. While it was a mutual gain at first for both of us, I did not have a written agreement in place to avoid certain conflicts. If you are going to rent out a room, have them sign an agreement and put down a small deposit. Even, or perhaps especially, if you are friends. I currently don't have a roommate, though I could use the extra money. I confess I am quite the introvert and like my space. Besides, now the little one has taken over the spare room as his playroom. But if I hadn't had a roommate during that first year, things would have been a lot tougher financially.

Asked For Help

And do so with a grateful heart. It can be hard to ask. Especially when it seems like you are doing a lot of asking. I needed to set aside my pride and care for my children. So I got on food stamps, had help through an agency with catching up my utility bills, had a family member help one month with rent, and I continue to be blessed with help as we get back on our feet. There is no shame in asking for help. We all need it from time to time. Just make sure to say thank you. Again and again, thank you. 

Used my Talents

Use a talent or hobby to bring in money. Mine just happens to be photography. Perhaps you could teach piano lessons to kids in your neighborhood. Maybe you like to make candles. You could sell them locally at craft fairs, through you Facebook page, or through a site like Etsy. Get along great with dogs? Offer to dog sit. Look at what gives you joy and think about how you might be able to earn money from it. Who knows, maybe it will become a successful venture and you won't have to return to work for someone else.

Became Obsessively Frugal

I stopped buying paper towels, foods with no nutritional value, anything I could honestly say was just a want. I hung the clothes out on the line more often, became fanatical about turning off unused lights and avoided running the air conditioning and heating as much as possible. We didn't eat out. We didn't go to the movies. We didn't buy our clothing new. And yet, we weren't miserable. In fact, we enjoyed a certain amount freedom that year.

I am still working to get us to a point where we are comfortable financially, but rebuilding takes time and we are only just on our third year out. When I think back over that first year, I am quite frankly amazed. But, like I said, I am stubborn. A full blooded, hard headed Taurus. I have also been blessed with generous help from friends and strangers. Their help was the tipping point that allowed us to survive. For that I don't know if I can ever say thank you enough. You see, though at times I felt lonely, I have never been traveling that road alone.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Simple Small Batch Homemade Tomato Sauce for the Freezer

Growing up in the farm belt of rural Ohio, I came to believe that canning and freezing had to be done in mass quantities. It was referred to as "putting food by" for winter and it was done out of tradition, family, and love. I remember waiting with delight for the jars that had just come out of the boiling water bath and were now lined up on the counter to cool to pop as their lids sealed due to the pressure change. I remember being horrified of the pressure cooker, afraid it was going to explode like a bomb and kill us all. 

As an adult, freezing is by far my favorite method of "putting food by". Especially here in south Texas where turning on your stove in the hot summer and standing over a steaming water bath is about as pleasant as finding a scorpion in your shoe. Since my garden is small, as is my family, preserving the bounty in small batches just makes more sense for us. I don't need 20 quarts of tomato sauce for me and the boys and I don't have enough tomatoes ripe enough at one time to make a lot anyway, nor the storage space. So I was delighted when I was able to make two quarts out of the first batch of ripe tomatoes.

I did some searching on the internet and combined a couple recipes to come up with what I was looking for, easy, full of flavor, and didn't require large quantities of tomatoes. Oh, and I could simply store the sauce in my freezer. If you are looking for easy and small, this one's for you.

Simple Freezer Tomato Sauce

  • 3 quarts plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 6 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil, finely chopped
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • small handful chopped fresh parsley (optional)
  • 1 tsp sugar
Stew chopped tomatoes with garlic over medium low heat in covered pan until desired consistency. Add fresh basil, salt, pepper, and sugar. Remove from heat and allow to cool. For a smoother sauce, run through a food processor on puree setting. Fill jars, leaving about a half inch at the top. Label and freeze.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Chai Tea Ice Cream Recipe

For our second batch of homemade ice cream this summer my oldest son picked this delicious, exotic treat. If you love chai tea, you are going to love it as ice cream. It is sweet, spicy, and oh, so creamy. It is a rich, heavy ice cream so a couple scoops is quite satisfying. Serve it up with some ginger snaps or top with graham cracker crumbs for a really special treat.

Chai Tea Ice Cream

  • 1 C milk
  • 2 C whipping cream
  • 3/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 6 tea bags (Darjeeling or English Breakfast)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk or 3/4 C sugar

Mix milk and cream in large pan. Add spices and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add tea bags, and cover pan to steep for 45 minutes to an hour. 

After mixture is finished steeping, remove tea bags and strain through cheesecloth or a wire strainer. Add egg yolks to empty pan. Slowly stir in milk mixture, especially if still warm, to avoid cooking egg yolks. Bring to low boil over medium heat while stirring. Add desired sweetener and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool several hours or overnight.

Once mixture is cool, freeze according to your ice cream maker's specifications. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Basic Repair and Maintenance Skills Every Woman Should Know

As a single mom I've had to acquire a new skill set to keep things running around here. It ain't always easy, that is for sure. If you are a single parent, you know you have a lot on your plate. You don't have a partner to help out, and if you are on a tight budget like me, can't always hire a plumber, mechanic, or handyman.

Don't let it intimidate you. Most of the things I've had to learn how to do myself are actually quite simple. You can do it. And you will feel great having done so. Believe it or not, it can be very empowering fixing a leaking toilet for the first time. Too often we women rely on other people, our father's, our spouses, people we hire to do these things for us when we are quite capable of handling it ourselves. Then, when we find ourselves unexpectedly living alone, we are overwhelmed by what we don't know how to take care of. Of course, when you have a partner helping you out with the day to day tasks of running a home, it is our natural tendency to split the things that need done into his and hers, and usually that means he does the repairs or calls someone to make them. But now that you are on your own, as you well know, everything falls upon you to get taken care of. 

But let me say it can do it. And here is a handy list of tutorials to guide you through some of the repairs and maintenance you may need to take care of:

Toilet Repairs

So far I have had to replace a toilet seat, a broken chain, and I will be changing the flush valve seal tomorrow. Oh, and then there is the basic unclogging a toilet. In fact, toilet repairs seem to be the most common I've had. How Stuff Works has a great tutorial on basic toilet repairs that is easy to follow:

How to Patch a Hole in the Wall

Been there, done that. Door stops fall out and someone hits the wall with the door knob. Moving awkward furniture, you bump into a wall and leave a big hole. You pull a nail and a chunk of drywall comes with it. Patching a hole in the wall is another one of those common skills it is important to know, especially if, like me, you have kids in the house. The blog, View Along The Way, has a great tutorial to show you how to patch that hole like a pro: Repairing Drywall Like a BOSS. There is also a cute little bonus video on how to remove a popcorn ceiling if you ever need to.

How to Jump Start Your Car

One evening while getting out of the car, my little man decided to see what the switch did that turned on the overhead lights in the car. Well, this tired momma just wanted to get into the house and make dinner so I failed to notice that the light was on. Yeah, your guessed it. Dead battery the next morning. It's going to happen and you can't depend on the car you flag down to know how to put the jumper cables on properly. I found this visual over at Fantastic Home. Print it out and keep it in your car. You will need it one day.

Basic Car Maintenance

I drive an older car with lots of, uhm, character. We have nicknamed the car the Rattletrap Car, after a children's story book by that name. And she does. She rattles, she creeks, the power steering hums. I rely on this car to get me to work, take the little one to appointments or soccer practice, run errands. I can not afford to be without it, nor can I afford to repair major issues or replace it at this time. So basic car maintenance is a must. It should be for any car in order to extend the life of the car and keep it running smoothly. The folks over at Lifehacker have a great article on taking care of your car: The Preventive Maintenance You Need to Do On Your Car (And When)

There will be other things that come up. Where is that dang furnace filter? Ugh, the kitchen faucet is leaking everywhere! Why is the lawn mower puttering? One good resource for do it yourself reapir and maintenance help is the website The Family Handyman. They have an excellent list of tutorials and videos. Meanwhile, if I come across any other great links I'll update them here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Homemade Pancake Syrup and The Best Buttermilk Pancakes

We love pancakes around here. I'll even make them for dinner from time to time. In the fall, it's pumpkin pancakes. I've made zucchini pancakes, cinnamon pancakes, and our favorite banana pancakes, but this basic buttermilk pancake is a standard. Change 'em up by adding diced apples, blueberries, or chocolate chips. And, yes, serve up a stack for dinner.

Top off you pancakes with homemade syrup. This recipe was handed down to me by my parents. I believe it may have originally come from the book, The Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn. Dad still makes this syrup after over 20 years. While I'd prefer natural maple syrup, it's out of my budget and I have no interest in the high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring/flavoring filled store bought syrups.syrups. Blech. It's easy to make up a batch of this syrup with leftovers so you don't have to make it every time you have pancakes, but it's so simple to make and if you get it mixed up and cooking on the stove while you cook up the pancakes, you'll have a nice, hot batch ready when your pancakes are done cooking.

Homemade Pancake Syrup

  • 3 cups sugar (cane or brown both work. Brown sugar adds a deeper flavor)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups water
  • 3 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 tsp natural vanilla
Mix all ingredients together in a medium pan. Bring to boil over medium high heat. Remove from heat and let set.

Best Buttermilk Pancakes

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp melted butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients and mix until lumps are gone. Heat butter or oil in a skillet. Drop 1/4 cup batter into skillet and cook until bubbly. Flip, cooking until brown on other side.

Serve hot with slabs of butter and homemade syrup. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Two Potato Hash with Baby Kale and A Fried Egg

One thing I'm getting pretty good at is eating like a "foodie" on a tight budget. I give my mom credit for teaching me this skill. She kept the four of us kids and dad well fed even when the budget was tight. I hope to continue to post inexpensive, healthy recipes to show how you can eat healthy on a low income, and, like this recipe, it doesn't have to involve a lot of time cooking. This could easily feed a family of four because we had plenty of leftovers with just the little one and me.

The cupboards were looking bare when I created this for dinner a couple weeks ago . I've been on an egg kick lately and salivate over all the recipes floating around the internet with a soft cooked egg on top. It seems to be a foodie trend, but, hey, I'm going with it. I just need to get my small flock of laying hens in the back yard so I can have fresh eggs. Now that would be awesome!

The gooey egg yolk sinking onto the potatoes was a heavenly bite. I am going to make this again sometime, even when the cupboards are full. The great thing about this dish is it makes a healthy, low cost breakfast or dinner meal.

Two Potato Hash with Baby Kale and A Fried Egg

  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 large baking potato
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • baby kale
  • 1 fried egg per person, over easy
Add just enough oil to a large skillet to evenly cover the bottom. You don't want to drown the potatoes in oil, but you do want them to "fry". Heat skillet over medium heat. Cube both potatoes and add to hot oil, stirring to evenly cook. Just before they brown, add the sliced onion and minced garlic. When onions are soft and potatoes begin to brown, add a couple handfuls of baby kale. The kale will shrink as it is cooked, so you may add more if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Immediately remove from heat to avoid overcooking the kale.

Meanwhile, in another skillet prepare eggs. Place hash onto individual serving plates and top with egg. Serve hot.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

You Can Eat Healthy on a Low Income Diet

This post is was inspired by the comments on an article I was reading a couple days ago about healthy eating and income disparity in America. There is a pervasive myth that you can't eat healthy if your income falls below the poverty guidelines. It isn't even that hard to do. I should know. I've done it. I've been doing it for two years now, as a single mom just getting by. I've done it on food assistance. I've done it without. My taxable income on last year's tax return was (drum roll, please) a mere $7,000. Yes, you read that right. Yet, food was one area I was not willing to compromise on with my boys. So, yes, you can eat healthy and be "poor" by American standards.

I want to share how I've fed myself and my children healthy meals on a limited income.

  • Change Your Mindset. Instead of buying food by price per quantity, purchase food based on price per nutritional benefit. Thinking this way also shrinks your medical budget. It is an overall win for your grocery budget. Over processed white bread and discount mac and cheese may be low priced compared to healthier options, but when you look at nutritional impact there is no competing.
  • Stock up on healthy staples. Vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, and winter squash all keep well and are low cost. Dried or canned beans can be added to soups, salads, or stand on their own. Just make sure to rinse canned beans well before using. 
  • Eat less meat. Or none at all. While I do still serve meat, we don't eat it at every meal. Some weeks we are more vegetarian than not. Eggs are an excellent protein. So are nuts, dried beans, and seeds. There are plenty of nutritional and good tasting protein sources beyond meat. Meat is expensive to produce and to buy. Not to mention the added health benefits of eating less meat.
  • Utilize your freezer more. I freeze left overs to lower food waste. I also purchase items marked down that are great to stock up on and freeze them for later use. Most of the time these items are marked down because they are nearly out of date, but freezing them prolongs the shelf life. I bought fresh red peppers that had been pre-chopped and stuck the container in the freezer. I bought organic strawberries that were marked down and made a batch of strawberry freezer jam. 
  • Avoid the soda and chips isle. I don't buy soda. I don't buy candy. I don't by Cheetos or Little Debbie's snacks. None of them are healthy. I am getting no nutritional value for my dollar by purchasing these highly processed snacks disguising themselves as food. None of them actually nurture and feed my family. So I avoid them. I am not a food Nazi.I do occasionally get the hankering for some kettle chips, but they are not  regular purchases because my food dollars need to really count nutritionally. 
  • Eat smaller portions. Americans tend to overeat. Avoid going back for seconds. Fill your plate from the stove and take it to the table. If the food isn't within your reach you are less likely to overeat. Eat from a small plate. We don't use our large dinner plates. The larger the plate, the more food you are going to pile on. Eat only what your body needs.
  • Drink more water. Add a slice of lemon, if you'd like. It's the lowest cost, healthiest beverage you can fill your glass with. Your body needs it, unlike sugary soda.
  • Grow your own. Did you know that you can use food stamps to buy seeds? Even the smallest window can grow some herbs or baby spinach. There are some varieties of cucumbers and tomatoes that can be grown in containers on an apartment balcony. Get involved in a neighborhood garden. 
  • Reduce food waste. Letting food go to waste is like burning your money. If we are not going to eat all of something I've made, I freeze it. If something is about to make the transition from possible dinner to compost bin, I try to use it up immediately. A couple weeks ago I had a zucchini that was looking like it was on its last hours and a partial container of buttermilk that wasn't far behind the zucchini. I made up a batch of buttermilk pancakes, grated the zucchini and added it to the mix, thinking along the lines of zucchini bread. The pancakes turned out wonderful. The little one ate them up. And the zucchini and buttermilk didn't go to waste. 
  • Use coupons and pay attention to store sales and clearances. But don't get wrapped up in buying ten boxes of cereal that you don't eat because they are cheap. Be mindful. Only use coupons on food items that make sense to your family and that meet the nutritional requirements of your food dollars. I find that most items I purchase aren't typical coupon items, unless it's a store coupon for a free bag of potatoes or something. My store also is constantly bringing in new products and clearing out the old. I once stocked up on an overabundance of gourmet spaghetti sauce because they were pulling it from the shelves and it was marked down to 25 cents a jar. It's something we use and lasts a long time as long as it's sealed. I still have a couple jars left.
  • Cook it from scratch. With real ingredients. Yes, I know we are all tired. Yes, there are so many hours in the day. That's why I utilize weekends and/or my slow cooker. And some things really don't take that much more time, like making pancakes from scratch. Or cornbread. Or homemade salsa. get the idea. 
Tonight I had a bed of baby greens topped with beets, saute'd onion, and a fried egg over easy, drizzled with a little olive oil and a dash of sea salt. Yes, the greens are organic. Hopefully, I'll have my own baby kale and spinach in the ground by next week and I'll save some money there, but I'd much rather buy a bag of organic greens than a case of soda. Eating healthy on a limited budget is possible, you just need to make trade off's and avoid the junk that unfortunately seems to fall into most carts. Your hard earned money will go further by spending it on nutritional quality versus quantity and taking into consideration the above guidelines. 

Healthy food isn't a privilege of the rich. While I may not be able to afford a nice salmon steak every week, I know I am feeding my family healthy foods.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Grown Up Hot Chocolate

This hot cocoa is great for warming you up during these crazy, cold January days. It is a rich, dark, spicy drink. The powdered store bought mixes just don't measure up for me anymore after drinking this. At first it may seem crazy to add cayenne to a sweet drink, but it adds to the warming effect. Plus, cayenne has many health benefits such as relieving allergies. As we are currently dealing with "cedar fever" here in Texas, anything that brings relief is appreciated. Best of all, this single serving sized cocoa takes less than two minutes to make and is absolutely addictive.

Grown Up Hot Cocoa

1 1.75 oz. dark chocolate bar (Trader Joe's sells a three pack)
2 tsp. butter
1 to 1 1/4 cups milk
dash of cinnamon
dash of ground cayenne

Break the chocolate bar into pieces and place in mug with butter. Add about a tablespoon of milk and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir melted chocolate mix and slowly add remaining milk, filling mug. Heat in microwave for another minute. Add cinnamon and cayenne. Stir to thoroughly dissolve melted chocolate. Enjoy!