About Me

Monday, April 11, 2016

Stuffed Pepper Casserole - and Meal Pairing

In my book (shameless plug: Eating on the Cheap) I talk about meal pairing and this is a super example. Watch the meal transformation:

Saturday - chicken and broccoli pasta

  • cooked a pound of pasta, but only used half for tonight

Sunday - pasta marinara with ground beef

  • used rest of pasta from Saturday
  • cooked a small amount of ground beef to add to sauce, then used that pan to cook more ground beef and ground sausage
  • added leftover sauce to cooked meat
  • also cooked rice in the pressure cooker while browning the meats

Monday - stuffed pepper casserole

  • used meat, sauce, and rice from Sunday




With the magic of prepping ahead, the stuffed pepper casserole took less than 10 minutes from refrigerator to table. 

I sliced bell peppers, tossed them in olive oil and layered them in the bottom of a pan, then put them under the broiler while I warmed up the filling (that was already cooked.) 
Then I dumped all the filling on top of the pan full of peppers, topped it with a mix of breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast, olive oil, and Jane's Krazy salt and broiled for another couple of minutes. Super easy and delicious! 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sleep... aka How to Remember What Day it is...


"The importance of a good night's rest" is an expression we have all heard. Very few people give it the dire and devastating level of attention it deserves. I'm not a doctor, but I feel pretty confident saying that humans could live longer without food than we could live without sleep.

I have a tendency to attract mentally fragile people (most of whom have been tricked into thinking that I am handling my mental illness well.) Nearly every time a person comes to me with a confession of considering self-harm it is after some time of either no, inadequate, or restless sleep. Even one night of bad sleep can cause a person with mental illness to begin an awful spiral. It might take more "stable" people longer than one night, but they get there as well.

For many, many (like, 40) years I refused to take sleeping aids. I have a real aversion to taking meds and the one that I tried knocked me out so well that there would be no way for a kid to rouse me and even if they did, I wouldn't be any help to them. But, alas, the crazy teaches lessons you might not want to learn.

Recently, I was having more periods of confusion and more thoughts of self-harm and just plain negativity than I could handle. My psych knows that the idea of taking pills is ick to me and is great at accepting that. She found a not-so-scary med (basically super Benadryl) to try just when I had trouble sleeping and it worked beautifully. What happened, though, is that I realized that I always have trouble sleeping, it is just when it became drastic that I was labeling it as a problem. For the last two months I've been taking a small dose every night and, while all my problems haven't magically disappeared, things are much easier to handle. It is also very easy to see when my sleep isn't great because now I have an accurate baseline.

This is a long intro to a story about the repercussions of inadequate sleep.


Wednesday night I stayed up super late binge watching "Lip Sync Battles"... 'cause I'm a wild woman. I had to work Thursday morning and was groggy and more ditzy than normal. Nothing crazy, just tired. Well, that meant that I dozed off Thursday early evening, but then woke up feeling refreshed two hours before I should have gone to bed. Then, of course, I wasn't ready to sleep, so I stayed up too late again and then tossed and turned all night. I had fitful dreams - Paige washing my windshield with a washcloth while we were driving - me forgetting to go to work because I thought it was Saturday (complete with a tearful, blubbering call to my boss) - grocery shopping without enough money - and more that I can't remember.

So, I woke up Friday morning in a panic because I thought, to begin, that I had forgotten to go to work and then couldn't remember what parts of that were a dream and what day it really was. I get in the shower and work out in my mind that it is Friday and I have to be at work and probably didn't call and leave a frightening voicemail for my boss. Then I remember three or four things that I forgot to do at work the night before that need to be done for a party today and so I need to rush to be a little early. I'm beating myself up because we weren't even busy and I don't know why I didn't do them! I get out of the shower with a plan to be a super fast get-readier. Then I realize that I don't have any clean socks that work with my good work shoes, but, have no fear! I have a backup pair of work shoes! Actually, I have one shoe. Dang it, where is the other one. I look everywhere, seriously, everywhere. I finally give up and am just going to wear the ones that will show the "sport" sock markings. Then, I spy the other sneaky little bugger peeking out from under a pair of flopped over boots. Okay, now I'll only be about 5 minutes late when I need to be 15 early. All that's left is to grab the baby and my glasses and head out. Glasses. Glaaasseeesss... **insert your favorite curse words, I probably said them*** I could have sworn that I knew exactly where they were... Frantic searching for 10 minutes and they are nowhere NO WHERE. Fine, now I'm 15 actual minutes late/30 minutes later than I wanted to be. I throw the baby into car and then into the preschool and speed off to work sans glasses. I run in the building and grab the plates and bowls to do the things we forgot the night before only to find that they are already made. It takes me a solid five minutes to figure out what you might have noticed if you have been able to follow this story - that I didn't work Thursday night, I took a nap on the couch. That's right, I forgot the fact that I did not work, therefore did not forget to do the set up. The people who did work did the set up as they should have. Today is Friday...

Sleep. It's a good idea. Tonight I will take a little extra medicinal sleeping help.

Luckily, I am in a place where I can realize that this is fine and I can fix it. It has not made me feel like a worthless piece of excrement who doesn't deserve to waste breath that good people might need. Does that seem ridiculous? Yeah, it should, but it is part of life for crazy me. A day like today could very well have sent me into a spiral that would last days or weeks. Today, I can laugh at it and know that tomorrow will be better.

P.S. The glasses were found tonight, under the pile of clean clothes that I frantically threw around trying to find the dang shoe.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Timeline of a Ruptured Ovarian Cyst

There is a surprising lack of detailed information about what to expect with a ruptured ovarian cyst online. There are a lot of technical articles, but actual nitty-gritty details are missing. What follows is my personal account of symptoms with my best guess of what was going on in red, I won't promise this is what everyone experiences and the details are not always ladylike, but here goes:


  • Around the first of August, I started feeling ick. Not awful, but just a little off. I wasn't able to eat as much as normal and felt slightly nauseous, fatigued, and mildly achy. This went on for about two weeks. Cyst is growing, starting to press on stomach and nerves.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 11 about 10:00 pm I had horrible body aches, starting in my lower back all of a sudden. I went from just fine to a mildly sore back to all over, hurts-to-move pain over the course of about a half hour. I took some ibuprofen and heated up a rice sock and went to bed. Cyst begins leaking fluid.
  • Wednesday, Aug. 12 I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I was taking 800 mg of ibuprofen at a time just to be able to function. My appetite was next to nothing, the nausea was worse, and diarrhea started. Thankfully, it isn't the "have to get to the bathroom immediately" kind, just very, very loose stools when I do go.
  • Thursday, Aug. 13 I felt somewhat better, but still needed ibuprofen and rice socks.
  • Friday, Aug. 14 I felt okay, just a little achy until about 5:00 pm when my right shoulder and neck really started hurting and the pain seemed to move down my right side until my whole right side hurt. I wasn't strong enough to hold my toddler. About 8:00 pm the pain under my right rib was so bad that I couldn't sit upright without wincing. by 10:00 pm I had to stay completely still on my left side in order to avoid screaming out in pain. I thought I had somehow broken a rib without knowing it. Breathing was hard and a deep breath was impossible. I tried laying in a hot bath and having the hot shower hitting my back and side and nothing helped. Ibuprofen and rice socks didn't touch the pain. I promised my husband that if it wasn't better by afternoon I would go to the urgent care. Cyst fully ruptured, fluid spreads throughout my abdomen, mostly under my right rib.
  • Saturday, Aug 15 I woke up as bad as I went to bed. I absolutely hate going to the doctor, but I didn't even wait for my husband to make me go, I managed a shower, made a pb&j for the toddler, got her dressed and headed to the urgent care. I was in so much pain that the doctor there asked why I hadn't gone to the ER instead. I still thought that maybe I had pulled or broken something and wasn't sure it was ER worthy. He said he would call over to the ER to tell them I was coming and that he was certain it was my gallbladder. I dropped baby off with Daddy at work. When I arrived, the on call doctor and the nurse, who had recently had her gallbladder removed, both agreed with the urgent care doctor that it was definitely my gallbladder. They started an IV with Demerol that provided some relief and drew labs to determine liver function and white blood count and lots more. At least only under the rib and  neck still hurt. The second dose of Demerol took away the pain in my neck, but I still couldn't lay flat without pain. The labs came back normal which confused the doctor because I presented with such classic gallbladder symptoms. She ordered a CT scan, still expecting it to be my gallbladder but wanted the CT to be able to check the entire abdomen. All this time, the only question anyone needed answered was whether I needed emergency surgery or could wait until Monday. The CT came back showing a 1 cm hemorrhagic cyst on my left ovary and a 2 cm hemorrhagic cyst on my right ovary as well as evidence of a ruptured cyst and fluid in the abdomen. The pain apparently was from fluid going under and around the gallbladder and irritating the nerves around there making the pain mimic gallbladder pain. They sent me home with a prescription for tramadol to take every four hours and told me I could also take ibuprofen with it if needed. Basically, I just need to manage the pain until the fluid is reabsorbed. I came home and tried to rest covered in rice socks and was able to sleep a bit, but still couldn't lay any way but on my left side without significant pain.
  • Sunday, Aug. 16 Still significant pain, but manageable with the tramadol/ibuprofen/rice sock combo, very little appetite, mild nausea, and diarrhea. My abdomen is rumbly, almost feels like pregnant kicking. Now we have added insatiable thirst and severe fatigue. I could barely get out of bed without needing a nap. Pain meds are working, but causing the additional symptoms, fluid is being absorbed.
  • Monday, Aug. 17 I finally can lay any way I want and sometimes the pain is mild enough that I only take one tramadol (instead of two) and no ibuprofen. I'm still using the rice socks constantly and still feel rumbly. I am absolutely exhausted, still with mild nausea and diarrhea. I have a horrible headache. I took tramadol at 11:00 pm and didn't need to get up for it during the night.
  • Tuesday, Aug 18 I finally feel human again. I haven't had any pain meds since last night and only have mild pain, similar to light menstrual cramps. The exhaustion and thirst are mostly gone and I was able to eat some breakfast without feeling sick. Still with the diarrhea, though. Most of the fluid has been absorbed.

I would love to hear if this experience is similar to anyone else's. I don't know how long until I am back to 100%, but I feel close. I am a little concerned about the other two cysts and just hope that they go away on their own or at least rupture now while they are small. No one seems to know why this happened or how to prevent it other than taking birth control pills to stop ovulation, which isn't an option for me because extra hormones and mental illness don't go well together, at least for me. I will update this if anything else noteworthy happens.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How I Aeropress

Doug found the Aeropress for me a year or so ago and I resisted buying it because I was happy with my french press method and  thought it was just a gimmick. My mother-in-law got me one for Christmas and I was super excited to try it (although still skeptical that it would see long term usage.)
Some people are a little nutso about theirs! LOL

Yes, a competition! (click picture for link)


I am as surprised as anyone that, now half a year later, I am still using it every day! I initially didn't like that I had to make one cup at a time, but I've now made some adjustments to fix that snag. Making one cup at a time still yields the best tasting cup, but the method I'll describe is a tremendous improvement over drip, tied with a french press, and infinitely better than a Keurig.



I use the inverted method, which eliminates dripping during brewing time.The numbers below follow the picture as you would read starting at the top left. 
  1. Heat 28 ounces of water to 180*-190*
  2. Add 4 tablespoons (59g) quality freshly ground coffee (fairly fine grind), a bit more if your beans aren't terribly flavorful
  3. The grounds go to about the 3 level
  4. Add enough water to fill and stir gently
  5. When it looks like this, stir another 5ish seconds, about 15 seconds total, top off with as much water as will fit
  6. Slightly wet the filter to make it stick to the lid, I do this as I pour the remaining water into an insulated carafe (my old Thermos french press)
  7. Screw on the lid and let brew 3-4 minutes
  8. Flip over and slowly press the plunger down into carafe (as an aside, ladies - if you happen to have a diastasis recti or are trying to remember to do your kegels, this is a great time to do your exercises)
  9. Enjoy delicious coffee; Batman mug not required, but adds to the experience.

Right now I use the paper filters that came with the press, but when they run out, I will probably get a stainless steel, reusable filter to let through some of the oils that are trapped by paper that I miss from the french press.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Picture Puzzles

I came up with an easy and fun craft for Christmas presents this year. I even think the recipients really liked them! I admit to having made things that I loved making, only to realize that not everyone actually wanted them - oops.

I saw a backsplash made with 4 in ceramic tiles that had art work sealed onto them and that got me thinking about what else could go on tiles. Here is what I came up with:

Picture Puzzles! 

Look at those adorable kids!


We were at Lowe's a while back and I saw these tiles:



and they kind of struck me as something crafty, but I didn't really have any project in mind. Then I saw the backsplash project and something clicked.


  • Step 1: Get the backing and all the glue off the tiles.

There were two different types of glue on the back of the tiles, one was Elmers-y and came right off by rubbing or with the nail brush after a few minutes soaking in warm water. The other was more hot glue-y and was a pain in the butt to remove, a knife, patience, and very soggy fingers finally got it off. The packages of tiles looked identical so I couldn't find a way to tell which glue was used.

  • Step 2: Facebook stalk your recipients or find photos in a more conventional way. Print the pictures on regular paper, not photo paper or it won't adhere well. 
  • Step 3: Measure your tiles and crop your photos. My 1" tiles were actually 7/8" each. This is super important to get exact or your tile will show and the puzzle will look weird when assembled. Mine were mostly 4.4" square which is 25 tiles.
  • Step 4: After you measure, mark a piece of tape with the measurements to act as a guide on your paper cutter or on a piece of paper. We tried several ways of doing this, but I think the marks on the paper cutter worked best.



             

  •  Step 5: Mod Podge and then Mod Podge and then Mod Podge some more. If you hate brush strokes then lightly sand between each coat, but I don't mind them, so no sanding here. Use the Mod Podge to glue the individual squares to the tiles and then let it dry about an hour. Then start top coating. Let each layer dry most of a day (12-24 hours). I decided the magic number was 4 top coats and two on the sides.




  •  Step 6: If you are making 15 of these things, plan to have your table become craft central for a week or so. (The cups in the middle are bath salt scrubs for my Book/Wine club - epsom salt, baking soda, sea salt, coconut oil, lavender oil and a couple drops of food coloring)


  • Step 7: To be kind, make a copy of the photo to be used as a guide and number the back of each tile so they can be put back easily if you aren't in a puzzle doing mood.

Overall, this is an inexpensive and pretty low skill level project, the only hard part is being patient between coats.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Holiday Food Stretching

Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming and that usually means heading to someone's home (maybe yours) and stuffing your face with loved ones. For the food insecure this often is an upsetting contrast and also a welcome reprieve from their everyday struggles. Putting food on the table every day can be a stretch, particularly this time of year when the garden can't help (if you are lucky enough to have room and time for one); getting to the cheapest store is sometimes too cold of a walk so you settle for the higher priced, but closer one; you are expected to provide some type of Christmas gifts, often extravagant ones if your Jones' are significantly better off than you are; plus you need to do it all full of spirit and cheer. I know that sometimes it is hard to ask for help, but please know that there are many people who want to help, without judgement or pity, you just have to ask.

I have put together some ideas specific to holiday meals to hopefully make this time of year a bit less stressful.

The absolute first thing is ASK FOR LEFTOVERS! I know yelling isn't nice, but seriously! You would not believe how much food gets thrown away because either the host isn't one to use leftovers, they won't fit in the refrigerator, or they don't get used up before they go bad.

Now, what to do with those leftovers? Here are my favorite ideas, in no particular order:

Turkey

  • dice and freeze in sandwich size ziptop bags (about 1 pound per bag makes a nice family size meal with rice or pasta)
  • use it in place of any recipe that calls for chicken
  • the carcass makes fantastic stock (this post has pictures of last year's bounty: December Meal Plan and this one gives a recipe: Chicken Stock)
  • shred the meat and use it to make salad with mayo, celery, carrots, hard boiled eggs, walnuts, craisins, dill pickle, and whatever else suits your fancy
  • add barbecue, soy, sweet and sour, curry, or whatever other sauce or seasoning you have, turkey accepts lots of flavors really well

Ham

  • dice and put in snack size ziptop bags, it only takes a little bit of ham to add a lot of flavor
  • add to scrambled eggs, omelets, or frittata
  • ham and beans, of course! 
  • dice very small, fry until crispy and add to mashed potatoes or use to top salads

Stuffing

  • I haven't tried these, but they look amazing: Bacon Stuffing Bites 
  • make savory pancakes by adding a little flour, an egg, and some milk to make a chunky pancake-consistency batter, fry in oiled skillet, top with gravy or sour cream
  • cut chicken breasts in half, pound them out flat (I like to put them in a gallon freezer bag so I don't pound gross chicken splatters around the kitchen), put about a half cup of stuffing on the breast and roll it up, secure with a toothpick, bake covered at 350* about 30-45 minutes (until the chicken isn't pink and/or is 165* throughout)
  • use to make breakfast muffins - here is my basic recipe (Muffins), just omit the sugar, substitute the stuffing for half the flour, add some savory filler like ham, bacon, scrambled eggs, onions, etc. and use seasoned salt or poultry seasoning for the seasoning

Mashed potatoes

  • latkes! (true latke aficionados will not like this at all, but that's what we call them), add about a cup of flour and 2 eggs to every 3 cups of mashed potatoes, mix, smash into patties and fry in about 1/2 inch of oil, you can add some diced onions, ham, or bacon to the patties to make them really special, serve topped with sour cream, applesauce, or a fried egg (over medium for me, please)
  • breaded potato balls - (Super Food has some pictures) basically, you need very thick potatoes, if yours aren't, you can add some stuffing, flour, or shredded potatoes to thicken them, then you just form them into balls, roll in beaten egg and then bread crumbs and bake until lightly browned
  • use to thicken and add creaminess to any soup

Vegetables

  • we are big pot pie fans here and adding leftover vegetables (green beans, corn, carrots as long as they aren't sweet) will work great, as a matter of fact, adding green bean casserole to your pot pie recipe would be magnificent!
  • vegetable soup - saute some diced onions in some olive oil, add some tomato paste, garlic, chicken, beef or vegetable bouillon and Italian seasonings and saute another 3-4 minutes, add all the leftover vegetables (even the whole casserole if that's what you have) and cover with at least a couple inches of water, bring to a simmer and adjust to taste

Yams

  • sweet potato muffins are great, use the muffin recipe above
  • yams will freeze, when they thaw they might release some liquid, but will still be good
  • use to make sweet potato pie

Breads

  • cut into about 1 inch cubes, very quickly deep fry for the best croutons you will ever have, as soon as they come out, sprinkle with either seasoned salt or cinnamon sugar
  • cut into cubes, let sit uncovered overnight, then crumble by hand or in the food processor to make bread crumbs, put them in a bag in the freezer and they will keep indefinitely (can be used for making meatballs or meatloaf or lentil loaf, breading fried or baked goods, etc.)
  • tear into chunks for bread pudding
  • french toast

Desserts

  • most desserts freeze beautifully, just make sure you wrap them well 
  • pumpkin pie and be cut into cubes, rolled in sweetened breadcrumbs or coconut flakes and baked or fried, then dusted with pumpkin pie spiced sugar for little bite-sized pieces of heaven
  • almost boil milk, almond milk, or soymilk in the microwave or stove, add a square of fudge or a truffle and stir well or blend in blender for super hot chocolate

I would love to hear your clever ideas for leftovers!

*Cross posted to The Pantry blog

Basic Muffin Recipe

I am pretty sure I stole this (possible from The Tightwad Gazette), but I have used it for so long, I'm not 100% sure any more. It is my go to snack and breakfast muffin.


Muffins

1 ½ C flour
½ C sugar
2 t baking powder
½ t salt
1 C milk or other liquid (a little less if your filler is really liquid-y)
¼ C oil
1 egg
1 ½ C filler
spices (usually about 1 t, but adjust as you need to)

I love this recipe because it is a starting point for whatever we have. Just add 1 ½ cups total of any mixture of things, like shredded carrots or zucchini, or crushed pineapple, or chopped nuts, or chopped apples, or canned pumpkin, or chocolate chips or coconut, or... whatever! Just match the spices to what you add (or just go with cinnamon, it almost always works).

If you want to go savory: crumbled bacon (pre cooked) and scrambled eggs (pre cooked) with sage, salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients, place in greased muffin cups or whatever other pan you have (I like to make two shallow 8 inch squares). Bake about 20 minutes, depending on your pan size. They are done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Preheat oven to 400ยบ Bake 18-22 minutes for regular muffins or 25-30 for large muffins.