Winded Gypsy Chronicles: Entry 1 – The Beginning


Beth and Crixus 04 07 19
This is me with my lab, Crixus. Photo taken a week ago.

This is my story. I’ve wanted to sit down and write it for a long time, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it until now. I justified my lack of enthusiasm by telling myself my story wasn’t done yet, but what is done? Death? I can’t write this down when I’m dead and given my health and the black cloud that seems to follow me around, that could happen at any moment.

I want to say first that I will try to post these memories in somewhat of an order, but I may jump around a bit as different things enter my mind.

Let’s jump back to June, 2010. I want to start here, because this was where the real trouble began. I was living with my boyfriend at the time and our 2-year-old daughter, Graywyn. (I’ll often refer to her as “G” for short.) I own a small 2-bedroom home in Wisconsin (hopefully not for long, though).

This was already a particularly low time for us. We had previously been doing very well with a commercial and residential construction company we were essentially running out of my garage. We had all the tools, the truck, the crew and we’d made a name for ourselves. We were doing big projects like Walmart, Sam’s Club, Victoria Secret, Harley Davidson and other name brands. We offered general construction, but tile was our specialty.

We’d been thriving before our daughter was born, but it took the two of us working together for one paycheck to make it happen. We always had money in our bank account. We had savings, were able to do things we wanted and we were pretty happy. I worked until I was about 6 months pregnant. We lived in Columbus, Ohio during my pregnancy and after we took a job that required us working on the 20th floor of a building with no elevator, I was pretty much done. I realized I didn’t have the energy to do the work. After I stopped going, things kind of went downhill.

By the time we found ourselves in June, 2010, the construction business was all but over with. Companies were filing for bankruptcy and homeowners didn’t have the money. We switched gears. I focused on writing and transcription, which is what I had done from home before the construction. I loved working with university research departments (still do for readers who may need transcription services). We were now focusing on flipping cars and doing car repairs out of that same garage.

The money just wasn’t there and we were struggling. We were still doing some construction and had a couple local homes (within a block of my house). My ex’s brother was living with us. Over a two year period we’d had a lot of people live with us to help balance out finances and to help them out. At one time, his brother and my sister were both sleeping in the finished basement and another worker of ours was living above the garage. It was a full household and I grew tired of being an adult and having to share my personal space.

By now, only his brother remained. I became aware that he was doing and most likely dealing drugs a few weeks prior to this. I’d seen him make a quick hand exchange (product for money) across the street of my house during a family party. I was pissed. I told me ex his brother had to move out…immediately. He didn’t right away, but by now he had.

He claimed he had work back in Ohio where more of their family lived. He said he was coming back, but we both knew he wasn’t and to be honest, we didn’t want him back. Enough home sharing and enough drug activity. He basically packed his stuff and left in the wee hours of the morning one day. There was something off about it.

A few days later, one of the guys who had worked for us, whose car my ex had been working on and who seemed to have some sort of beef with my ex and his brother, approached me. I’d always gotten along with him. I remember I had bought Christmas gifts for his children one year when I knew they were low on money. I do stuff like that when I can for people.

He told me that my ex was mixed up in something bad. He said it was drugs. I asked him to give me info I could verify (like where was he hiding the drugs, etc). His warning was simple. He has screwed someone over big time and these were the kind of guys who would come for me and my daughter, he said, to get to him. He told me I needed to leave.

I believed him about needing to get out of there. I’d had a dream a few months before about it. Sometimes I dream things. In the dream, I was home alone. I saw a man in my driveway with a gun. I remember locking the side door off the kitchen (the most likely door he’d go to) and then realizing my back door was unlocked. My dog was out in the back in the dream. I remember thinking he might help protect me. It’s silly now when I think about it. A bullet would stop him.

I was trying to figure out what to do next when I woke up. There were other elements in the dream, such as the knowledge that my ex’s brother was involved. The dream was vivid and served as a warning.

After the warning, I remember standing out in the yard with my ex telling him we needed to leave then. He didn’t say he didn’t believe me, but he did think my reaction was a bit extreme. He asked me where we should go? I had no idea and as I listened to my voice, a bit higher and more excited than usual, I sounded crazy to my own ears.

In the end, we didn’t leave. Instead, we went about our day. I sensed it coming, but had no idea I didn’t have more time.

Later that evening we were sitting in the living room watching a movie. It was about 10 o’clock at night and our daughter was asleep in her bed. I got up to make a later dinner. We were having egg-in-the-hole. I had the kitchen windows open and couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched when I was in the kitchen. I looked over at the kitchen door and noted the handle was unlocked. I started to go over to it to lock it, but something stopped me. This decision would make no sense to me until later.

I finished making our dinner and sat down on the couch with our plates to finish the movie. The house is rather small, so the kitchen, dining area and living room are all right there in an open space.

Just like in the movies, we heard a twig snap/crack outside the windows. We turned off the movie and set our plates down. My dog, Horatio, a wirehaired pointer/lab mix stayed silent. This was unusual, because any other time someone even breathed in our direction, he’d be barking. He walked silently over to the kitchen door and listened, his head cocked to the side. My ex quietly said, “You stay here.” Just like any stubborn heroin in a book or movie, I completely ignored his command and followed him over to the door.

Whoever it was tried to open the kitchen door, but it would stick, so they couldn’t get it open on the first try. By the time they did open it, we were both there. Two men were on the other side, armed. Both had ski masks on and gloves, but the first guy stuck his gun hand through the door opening first. This was his mistake, because Horatio lunged for him, grabbed onto gun and hand. My ex and I dropped to the floor and the two of used our body weight to slam the door on his arm repeatedly until he pulled his arm out, falling backwards off the deck onto my car.

“You’re dead, mother fucker!” He yelled over his shoulder before both gunmen fled. As soon as he pulled his arm out, we’d gotten the door shut and the deadbolt locked.

Thinking like a mother, my instinct sent me rushing into my daughter’s room where she still slept peacefully, not knowing what had happened at the other end of the house. I didn’t know if they’d left, if they’d just start shooting or what, so I grabbed by baby out of her crib and crawled to the central part of the house (the hallway). I laid her down on the floor and shielded her with my body while my ex dialed 9-1-1.

Police came. They assumed it was drug-related. The ran a drug dog through our house, our vehicles and our garage and came up empty. The police never fully believed our story and began investigating us.

As far as not locking the door, I feel like if I had, they would have kicked it open; probably broken it and we would not have been able to lock them out.

It’s the kind of scenario you replay in your mind constantly. I do, at least, since the night it happened. There was a knife block right there. Why didn’t one of us grab a knife and cut him? Would the police have believed us if there had been blood/DNA? Then I think if one of us had cut  him, would his natural reaction had been to shoot? Would one of us be dead or injured? I guess it played out like it was supposed to.

We stayed awake all night. The next day, we packed some belongings and fled to the Dells. We stayed a couple of days and then went to a family member’s hard-to-find cottage.

We’d visit the house to get essentials. Neighbors would approach us and say they knew of the bad things that went down. They were scared. They didn’t want to get involved and would not be talking to police, but wanted us to know that my ex’s brother had left town with about $10,000 worth of drugs from a local gang (not to be named here, but a very well-known name) and that they wanted revenge. We were told by multiple people that there was a price on all three of our heads. $20,000 for me and him and $40,000 for my child. I guess the price doubles if you have to murder a baby.

I would never sleep a night in that house again and for years, I’d only go when I had to.

We didn’t know what to do next. At the time, I was managing about 250 writers for an online academic writing and research company. The owner lived half the time in the UK and the other half of the time in Cairo. Egypt was on my bucket list of “must visit” places, so when she heard what happened and offered to fly the three of us and my dog to Cairo and put us up in one of her apartment buildings, it seemed like a good plan.

And so the course would be set for worldwide travel….

The Real Beginning of Lightening My Load


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My life began to change 3 1/2 years ago (roughly). I’d been living in Ireland with my daughter and (then) boyfriend for a couple of years. We’d been informed at the beginning of July (2014) that we could no longer stay there. Our lack of a visa had made us illegal, which was not news, but now someone had noticed. 2 1/2 more years there and we could have applied for citizenship.

We had less than 3 weeks to pack our things, unload as many personal belongings as we could from what we had accumulated and head back to the states. We’d been living in furnished homes since leaving for Cairo in August, 2010, but we had a small child with us and had accumulated toys and things like that.

I remember we were running so late at the airport the day we flew out (my birthday; July 16th) that we were literally running as we unloaded the golden lab (called Crixus) in his carrier and I met the buyer of my car, who gave me a quick 400 Euro in the airport parking garage. I quickly apologized for the dog hair and we raced inside. From that day forward, my life not only would be different, but it would be an uphill battle.

A lot has happened between then and now, but last year I found myself single, stuck in the state I grew up in (Wisconsin), which I loved, but no longer wanted to be/live in, so hated. It was just me, my daughter and our small zoo of animals. I never wanted to stay here. I wanted to go right away, but it wasn’t in the cards for us, so we re-settled in the area.

I realized last winter that I can’t handle the Wisconsin winters anymore. Well, I’m doing it, so perhaps I can, but really don’t want to. Dealing with the snow is too much. It pushed my over the edge of being able to tolerate my existence here and feeling like I was going to crack. I realized that I was walking in place again, like I’ve done so many times before. It was time to get my shit together.

I formulated a plan in my mind. My small zoo now consists of the golden lab (Crixus), a Great Dane (Shaggy), a tortoise (now 1 1/2-years-old), Blue Ears, the rabbit, and Shakespeare, my parrotlet. How would I ever find a place to rent? This would especially be hard because I wanted to relocate across the country to Oregon, or possibly Washington. I was looking for either Irish-similar weather I’d grown so accustomed to or the western dessert I also knew and loved. Oregon seemed like a place to find exactly what I was looking for.

It hit me one day. By now I’ve had the plan in the back of my mind from so long that I don’t even know how I thought of it or what I was doing when I thought of it. I just know that before last year’s taxes, I’d decided I was going to buy an RV. I went back and forth between buying a travel trailer or and RV. I’d settled on an RV (despite people who care about me telling me the trailer might be better), because I can drive it with or without pulling behind a vehicle. Either way, it is a small home on wheels.

With an RV, I could load up my animals, drive to where I wanted to go (preferably at the beginning of a summer) and we could check out different places. We’d find a suitable place to rent/live over the summer, hopefully before school started in fall, so we’d end up in a safe place, unrushed. It seemed like the perfect plan and if I wanted to be totally unrealistic with myself, I thought I could do it last summer (ha!).

I tried and tried to find an RV, but found nothing. Finally, out of desperation I posted an ad in a Facebook group asking if anyone knew of or had an affordable RV for sale? It didn’t have to be pretty or updated, but it did have to be functional and affordable. A woman contacted me nearly right away telling me about her 1986 Gulf Stream Sunsport. I now know it is 30′ long. At the time, I was told it was a bit bigger. She said the cabinets had been replaced and that a lot of work had been done to it. She said all the flooring (tile, she said) had been purchased already and would come with it. It ran and drove, but her husband had been working on remodeling it for years. They had purchased a new one and she wanted this one gone. They wanted $2,300 for it.

I had my tax return, which was around $3,100. Excitedly, I rode with my dad to Cambria to take a look at it. The seller had driven it to a parking lot to meet us. The interior was much different than described. More had been done to it than I’d been told, but also less. The “tile” she’d been talking about was vinyl tile. As someone who has installed all types of flooring and used to own a construction business, I can say that I was not impressed. Her husband insisted he had fixed the roof. I could see that he’d replaced the subfloor, but the cabinets were ripped apart. The 80s were very apparent inside, but it wasn’t gross or disgusting, just a bit in shambles. The cloth interior was a teal and green design and I instantly thought it looked dark inside with the fake wood and the wicker design in the center of most of the cabinet doors. The lower doors for the cabinets had no hinges and I could see it had not been well thought out. There was a brand new, never-used toilet…sitting uninstalled in the bathroom. Old wallpaper covered everything and the ceiling had turned icky with age.

For some reason, the old owner had pulled apart the dash. I guess he thought it was important to replace, but in doing so, he’d pulled apart all the wiring. Nothing was hooked up. I’d immediately put money down on the RV to hold it until I could get a cashier’s check from the bank for the remainder and we’d signed something. After I’d put the money down, they contacted me and said the brakes had gone out and they would repair them before handing it over to me. This repair took weeks and I wondered if I’d ever truly take possession of it. I eventually did sometime in May. I believe they delivered it to its storage location around the 8th.

My then 9-year-old daughter and I spent every extra minute all spring, summer and fall (while the weather was still warm) working on it. We made progress, but not near what we wanted. Paint was the cheapest beginning and we set off painting all the cabinets white and the wallpapered walls a very light grey. We may have gotten half of it done.

Not long after I got the RV, I was lucky enough to find two cream colored leather captain’s chairs and a fold-out brown leather couch from a newer RV for free on craigslist. I was lucky enough to get them. Slightly worn, but much improved from the seats I ripped out. Those were installed (by me) in the summer. At one point, I also found replacement dinette cushions off of craigslist. I think I paid around $100. They were used, but were like brand new, in perfect condition and were a brownish color that went well with my cream and brown furniture.

By the time Halloween rolled around, it was just too cold to do much more and by then I saw what I’d accomplished, but also how far I had to go. I shook my head at myself, wondering how I would be able to accomplish all I needed by the summer of 2018, which was my new goal for leaving. By December I’d made it up in my mind that I was leaving by then no matter what. While I’d been spending all this time working on my RV, I’d also been trying to finish the house I was renting. I’d committed to installing flooring in the living room, kitchen and three bedrooms. All was done except the kitchen. I’d also painted two of the bedrooms and the living room and had partially painted the bathroom. My dog had ripped up the brand new bathroom flooring my landlord put in the winter before, so I also have to replace that.

By the first of the year, I had this feeling like things were going to work out for me this time. I realized I may have to let go of things. Over the summer I’d paid a guy to organize my over-flowing garage so I could find things. After he’d done that, I could actually get two vehicles in it and could walk through it and see what I had. I realized 85-95% of it would have to be gotten rid of. I already knew I’d sell my couch for what I could get for it before I left. We were taking no bedroom furniture of my daughter’s, per her request, and she wanted to get rid of the majority of her toys, because she is getting older and no longer wanted to play with toys. That left my bedroom set, my grandparent’s dining room set, one single leather rocker/recliner I felt I had to have with me, electronics, tools I wanted to keep and possibly a solid wood and very heavy (and unmanageable) long dresser I have in my living room that I use as an entertainment stand. I can’t forget all of my kitchen appliances and things I do not want to part with or have to replace.

I found quotes online for various things: moving pods, moving trucks (like U-Haul and Budget), storage buildings, moving companies–whatever you can think of. It all came down to a need for a few thousand dollars. Somewhere along the line I had it in my head that I would need $6,000 to move.  I would need gas money to get there, money to rent a place to put the RV, full coverage insurance on the RV and roadside assistance, food money and “oops” money for things I could not foresee.

I was happy to see my taxes were going to give me about half that. I was even more happy when I took my Explorer to a local mechanic who said another customer had offered $2,500 to buy it. I’d purchased it 2 years before for just $550. I thought that was a nice profit and that $2,500 would almost get my to what I felt comfortable leaving with.

Then something shitty happened. My Explorer was parked outside of the shop waiting to be repaired and some guy (high and/or drunk out of his mind) stole it, committed another crime in it and totaled it within just a few hours.

Luckily, I’d had full coverage insurance on it. Progressive moved quickly and sent me a check for around $1700-something (after my $250 deductible). Something clicked in my mind and I sat down and re-figured some of the expenses I thought I’d have in leaving for Oregon. I realized I could lower my numbers by quite a bit. I’d had it worked out with that same mechanic to pay him a deposit and a monthly amount to fix my vehicles and do repairs on the RV. He’d looked it over and determined it needed brakes, fuel lines, u-joints, he could do the re-wiring, and it needs its roof re-sealed again. He said we could store it at his shop and I could work on it there. With heat in it, I could get things done in cold weather. He said he could have it done by June, but after I re-figured, I asked him if I just paid him for it, could he do it faster. Of course, he said yes.

I re-arranged the plan in my mind. I would rent a storage building near where I lived and commit to bringing as many boxes and tubs as I could each weekend. My daughter and I would go through them and take only over what we intend to move. I’d number each one as I put it in, so by the time I was done, I’d know how many I had. This information is important for various moving quotes. This would also be helpful, because I’d received a letter in early January from my landlord that he was going to put the house I was in up for sale around March 1st. Of course, there would be the opportunity to stay, but also I may have to move. The stress was all too much and that was when my problem-solving mind went into overdrive to figure a way out of my problems. Bad thing after bad thing kept happening, but many things seemed to be leading me out of the state, where for some reason, I felt this black cloud I seemed to be under would be lifted.

I started looking through craigslist searching Washington and Oregon for RV sites. I’d been thinking I would go to an RV park and had found one as cheap as $350 a month plus electricity, but then I came across an ad for a single family that had an RV site with hookups on their property. I researched their area and really liked it. I’d emailed them and had received a voicemail from the husband the next day. I called back and got his wife, who I had a really nice conversation with. I instantly liked her and could tell she felt the same. Unfortunately, they were prepared to rent to me and I was prepared to rent, but was not ready to go. They said they couldn’t wait until June, but had not had an good prospects yet (except me). We agreed they would let me know if they rent it and I would contact them when I was ready to go to see if their spot was still open.

I realize now I may not get to rent their spot, but the rush is driving me to push harder to get out of here faster. Even if the opportunity slips away, the more I can get done in the shortest amount of time will put me in a better spot. If my landlord sells my house while I am still here and I decide I have to move, it would be nice to be able to just go to the RV. It would save me money.

So that is where I am at. My next step is to put insurance on the RV, so it can be driven or towed to the mechanic and he can begin. I also need to rent that storage building, which I think is going to cost me about $50 a month. I’m waiting for my Progressive check to clear. I put it in a relatively new bank account and they are sitting on it for 5 business days. My first purchases will be insurance and roadside assistance and then the rental unit, which I plan to pay at least two months of. I still don’t know if I will rent a pod to put my stuff in, store and move to Oregon when I go or if I will leave everything in storage here and rent a moving truck later. It makes more sense to me to do the pod and I feel more comfortable about having my things in the same state. That way, if something goes wrong and I need to remove the items, I can. If I am in Oregon and for some reason cannot pay the rental in Wisconsin, all of my things would be lost to me. Not  just some of my things, all of my things.

This was a pickle I’d have to conquer once I get ready to move. A lot will depend on the amount of money I have available to me. The good news is that I work from home and so my income will move with me and will not change. I get paid weekly, so even if I am running low on funds when I first get there, I’d get paid pretty soon right after.

Tiny home living and unconventional housing is becoming more popular. The more I read about other people’s lives, the better I feel about my plan, which to some people, sounds crazy. Sometimes I’ve laid awake at night asking myself I am crazy, taking my now 10-year-old daughter and our small zoo across the country to live in a tiny space. I realized, though, that it’s a very sound decision in a life that has become too expensive. I may even stay in the RV for a year instead of finding a place right away. If one year of slightly uncomfortable living would get my debt paid up or off and provide me the opportunity to buy my own home or make a step toward where I want to be in life, why not? It seems like a small price to pay. I even think about buying a piece of land to build on. A place where I can plunk my RV down while I continue onto the next step of my plan. It’s a race to provide my child with a relatively normal childhood before we both miss out on the stuff that makes it fun.

Meanwhile, I plan on detailing my steps here for anyone who is interested. Perhaps this type of choice would be right for you or maybe you have your own experiences to share with me. If you’re interested in reading more about alternatives way to save money in rentals, check this article out: 30 photos show the extreme lengths millennials will go to live in cities instead of suburbs

Where to find professional baking supplies in Ireland


In the past I’ve talked about where to find the best food and American foods in Germany and where to find bacon in Ireland.  Today I want to talk about finding professional baking items for the home baker.  In addition to my online work, I started baking cakes, cheesecakes, pies, pastries, etc. and selling them to local (Irish) restaurants, cafés, news agents and private individuals.  The busier I got, the more difficult it became to find the supplies I was used to working with in the U.S.  So today I thought I would pass along the locations I’ve found items and what I found.  If you’ve been trying to shop for baking items in Ireland, you’re probably aware of the fact that you’ll have to visit multiple locations to get what you want.

It probably would have been easier for me to find these things when I lived in Dublin, but I wasn’t do this then.  My kitchen and oven were too small in the last house and I had absolutely no storage.  I moved to Co. Leitrim nearly a year ago and suddenly had the space to do what I wanted.

Here is my list of “always searching for” supplies:

  • Gel food dyes
  • Wilton cake pans
  • Buttercream frosting decorating tips and bags (quality)
  • Wilton Meringue Powder
  • Flower nails

Of course there are many other things needed when baking, but those were the things I found it most difficult to find.  For starters, keep an eye on your local area Lidl and Aldi.  They don’t always have baking stuff, but when they do, it’s generally decent quality for a good price.  I purchased two of my favorite and most useful spring foam pans there a couple months ago and have been kicking myself for not purchasing more before they sold out ever since. 

There are many shops throughout Ireland that claim to be baking supply shops.  There is a shop in Cliffoney, Co. Sligo (about an hour and a half from where we live) that claims to be the largest baking supply shop in all of Ireland.  They do have a good assortment of things, but not everything.  I did find my flower nails and an assortment of gel food color.  Unfortunately, their Wilton products (food coloring) were very limited, so I had to go with a brand I was unfamiliar with (which also works just as fine). 

There are a couple of shops in Dublin too, but lately I’ve been finding the best shops seem to be shops that carry other products and don’t label themselves as baking or cake supply shops.  I do a lot of shopping at Whispy’s and Quidsworth (Q2) in Carrick-on-Shannon.  Be sure to check both locations for each (each has a downtown location, as well as a larger location in a different part of town).  You’ll find a lot of cheaper baking pans, fondant tools, cookie cutters and so forth. 

Heaton’s in Carrick-on-Shannon is another place that has a modest, but helpful, cake decorating aisle.  There you can buy a cake decorating turn table, decorating nozzles and bags, frosting spatulas and so forth.  You can also check your local Tesco. 

Also in Carrick-on-Shannon, you’ll find a good amount of baking supplies (pans, etc.) at Woody’s DIY.

I was shocked to find a good deal of baking and cake decorating supplies at Providers in Longford (Co. Longford).  Not only do they have some Wilton products, but they also carry a line of Cake Boss products.  You’ll find gel food colors here too.    

In Dublin, I was impressed with a shop in Blanchardstown called Inspiring Ideas (http://www.inspiringideas.com).  This is essentially a large craft shop with a café in the back.  They not only have a baking section, but they carry a good amount of Wilton products.  They had quite a selection of specialty fondant tools and rolling pins, gel food colors, cake decorating turn tables, pans and so forth. 

I’ve also been told that there is (or was) a baking supply house in Athlone and that I should go to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland (about 40 minutes from me), but I haven’t made it to either of those yet.  You’ll find some moderate supplies in little shops in downtown Sligo too. 

So if you’re in Ireland and you’re looking for a place to buy baking supplies, check out these places.  If you know of a place I haven’t mentioned, feel free to leave it in the comments below.

If you’re curious about what I’m doing, like me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/AmericanDessertsinIreland) or visit my website (http://www.letseat/AmericanDesserts).

Toning Down Spicy Food!


So I got this great idea that I was going to make crockpot chili.  It’s been a long time since I had good chili and ground beef is cheap at Lidl.  I found a recipe online and followed the spice measurements exactly.  I was a little put off by the 1/2 a cup of chili powder, but I went ahead and put it in anyway.  I smelled the mixture and thought that I could hardly smell any spice at all, so like like an idiot, I added MORE spice and THEN I decided to try a small spoonful.  Well that hairbrained idea didn’t get me far.  I mean, I like I spicy, but this literally scorched my mouth.  Not the kind of spice I was looking for!!

After some research and talking with Tony (a professional chef), here are some tips for other people out there battling this very common problem.

You can add sugar.  Of course, adding enough sugar to completely tone down the spice may make your dish gross.  You can also add more vegetables and broth to try to spread the spice out.  You can also prepare the same recipe, minus the hot stuff and mix it together with the spicy batch.  This will create a much larger batch, but hey, it’s better than throwing it away!

Natural acids can also help neutralize spiciness.  Try lemon juice and wine vinegar.  Coconut milk or other dairy products can help.

Have you had a similar experience?  How did you handle it?  Leave your tips and tricks below.

UPDATE

I added coconut oil and honey to the chili and it was still way too spicy.  I drained it and used coconut oil and honey as the liquid and left for about an hour.  It was still too spicy, so I drained it again (saving the liquid) and rinsed with cold water thoroughly.  I put the meat mixture back in the crockpot/slow cooker and added one can of condensed tomato soup, water and a small amount of the coconut liquid I had saved.  It seems a lot better.  There is still a kick to it, but I think with crackers, shredded cheddar and sour cream to serve, it will do.

Homemade Frozen Dinner Idea # 1: Breakfast Burritos


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m putting together homemade meals and freezing them to make my own TV dinners.  Unfortunately, I’m already running out of freezer space and wish I had a second freezer.  It’s definitely on my list of things to search for.

I just finished making eight mini breakfast burritos and I took pictures as I went through the process.  Let’s start with the ingredient list:

7 strips of bacon

8 breakfast sausage links

4 eggs 8 slices of processed cheese

Shredded cheddar cheese

8 small soft tortilla shells

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation: I started by frying the bacon on medium-low temperature (so as not to overcook it).  I chopped up the breakfast sausage into small pieces and fried it on medium-low temperature as well.  When the meat is done, I remove the pans from the heat and drain the bacon on paper towel.  You can drain the sausage too, but I did not.  I cut each strip of bacon in half lengthwise and then chopped into small pieces or bits.  I scrambled the eggs in the same pan I fried the bacon in (drain any grease beforehand) and salt and peppered to taste.  I added a small amount of milk to my scrambled eggs too.

Building a Burrito:

I laid everything out on the countertop and I built them all at the same time, so that the ingredients were evenly spread between each burrito. DSCF8070

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I tore one piece of processed cheese in half and laid one near the bottom and one near the top of an open tortilla shell. Next, I added equal portions of egg on top of the cheese.  Please note that you can sprinkle a bit of shredded cheddar around at this time as well.  The cheese will help keep everything together.  Finally, I spread equal amounts of bacon and sausage on top and finished off with more shredded cheddar cheese.

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Folding: I started by folding the bottom up first.

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While holding my first fold into place, I fold the top down.

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While holding my first two folds in place, I carefully roll from one side until to the other and firmly press down (without breaking the shell) so the rolled burrito stays rolled when set down.

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Storage:

I wrapped each burrito with tinfoil and then plastic wrap.  I wrote today’s date on each one, along with what it was.  I filled out this same information on a gallon size freezer bag and placed all eight breakfast burritos in the bag and into the freezer.  All of my ingredients were cooled by this time.

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Serving:

These can either be microwaved or baked.  To bake, heat oven to 350 degrees and bake until tortilla shell turns a light golden color.  You can bake in the tinfoil, but I would remove all wrappings.  To microwave, remove foil and plastic wrap and wrap in a wet papertowel.  Microwave on high 5-7 minutes or until cooked through.

Homemade TV Dinners: It’s Cheaper, Healthier and Tastes So Much Better!


There are not very many TV dinner choices in Ireland.  Stores like Iceland have a decent selection, but Iceland stores are not everywhere and they are not where I am currently living.  Even the cheapest TV dinners are not very inexpensive (in my opinion) compared to what you can pay in the U.S., but we have a lot of need for something quick and easy to throw in the oven or microwave, so I decided to make my own.  And I thought I’d share what I did with my readers. 

To start, I need to buy some foil baking containers.  I had hoped to find some smaller, rectangular-shaped shallow containers, but only found deeper ones.  I bought a five-pack of the deeper ones.  I also cleaned out our freezer of any of the meat products we don’t seem to be eating.  I’m either making recipes out of those products or baking them off in the oven to be re-frozen for later use. 

Here are some of my thoughts on things I could make and freeze:

  • Meatballs:  Tony’s mother gave me this idea a few years ago.  She made some amazing Swedish Meatballs and would cook a bunch of them off and then freeze them so when they wanted something easy, all she had to do was heat them up. 
  • Lasagna:  Although, this takes a bit more preparation than some other ideas, homemade lasagna is much better than store-bought.
  • Spaghetti:  Very simple, because you can get away with store-bought sauce (jazz it up a bit) and pasta is cheap and easy.  When you’re ready to make it, butter two sides of sliced bread and sprinkle with garlic powder, pepper, salt and a small amount of Italian seasoning and bake until golden.  Add cheese for cheese bread. 
  • Meatloaf:  Meatloaf is great, because it can be heated up with mashed potatoes and buttered corn or individual slices can be frozen and thawed for meatloaf sandwiches. 
  • Pot Pie:  You can make beef, chicken or turkey.  I used a mini springform pan to make my pot pies, because I didn’t have any mini pie pans.  Once the pie has cooled for 15 minutes, you can separate the springform and carefully remove from the bottom.
  • Various Chicken Dishes:  There’s a lot you can do with chicken.  You can season it various ways and bake it, stuff it with cheese, bread it—any number of things.  Serve with frozen vegetables, mashed potatoes or more.
  • Potato Wedges:  I had a bag of potatoes already and picked up some garlic potato wedge spice.  I’m going to bake them off in the oven and use them as sides with my meat dishes.
  • Burritos:  Burritos are excellent for the freezer.  I’m making breakfast burritos, but you can also do enchiladas, baked chicken wraps and more.   
  • Pizza:  Who doesn’t love pizza?  I guarantee your frozen homemade pizza will knock store-bought frozen pizza out of the park!

Since I don’t have enough baking dishes for everything, I’m going to create five meals using the aluminum pans, a few pot pies, homemade pizza and some breakfast burritos.  I’ll be taking pictures of the food I make and posting recipes, so check back for more.

5 Cheap Meal Ideas


If you’ve been reading any of my other recent blog posts, you may know that I am currently on the 10-day master cleanse, so it may come as a surprise to you that I’m posting about food.  I’ve been wanting to post this for a while and since I’m still able to think, talk about and look at food without feeling like an animal about to go for its kill, I thought it would be a good time to get it out of the way.

Times are tough for many people around the world.  I’m an American living in Ireland and although I find the food to be quite expensive here, I’m also hearing how expensive food has become from my family back home.  We have good weeks and we have bad weeks here and on the bad weeks, I have to get thrifty with the grocery cost.  Here are some cheap meal ideas.  They won’t win you any gourmet cooking awards, but they will help reduce the cost of your food bill.  Also, I can tell you that you can buy all of the ingredients for these items in Ireland.  

#1.  Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Condensed Tomato Soup:  You can buy bread here for as cheap as 69-89 cents a loaf if you shop at stores like Aldi and Lidl.  I spent 54 cents on a can of tomato soup from Tesco and you can be 15 slices of processed cheese for 64 cents at Tesco.  Butter is actually your biggest cost here.  In case you’ve never made a grilled cheese before, heat up a fry pan on medium heat.  Lightly butter one side of two slices of bread.  Put one piece of bread butter-side down in the frying pan and lay one to two slices of cheese on top of it.  Place the second slice of bread butter-side up over the top.  Cook each side until golden brown.  Be sure to check frequently, because there’s nothing worse than an overcooked grilled cheese sandwich.

#2.  Grilled Peanut Butter Sandwich:  Grilled peanut butter sandwiches are delightful.  There’s nothing better than that warm, gooey peanut butter in the middle and the fried butter taste that comes with it.  You make these the same way, but put smooth peanut butter in between layers instead of cheese.  I personally like Tesco brand smooth peanut butter.  It tastes the most like Skippy or Jiffy in the U.S.

#3.  Classic Hotdogs and Potato Chips/Crisps:  You can buy a 12 pack of hotdogs from Lidl for less than 2 Euro.  Hotdog buns at Lidl are only 99 cents for a 6-pack.  A jar of pickles (can be chopped up for relish) can be purchased just about anywhere for 89 cents and condiments are also cheap (particularly at Lidl and Aldi).  I also make sort of a homemade ranch dressing using Creme Fresh (89 cents at Lidl), 2 Tablespoons of chopped chive, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of garlic and salt and pepper to taste.  This can be used as a salad dressing or on the hotdogs.  I simply boil my hotdogs until they’re done.  

#4.  Garden Salad:  I love to eat salad.  Of course I don’t eat healthy salad, but if it is your only meal, it’s okay to incorporate all of the food groups.  Everyone’s salad is different, but here is what mine consists of:  Freshly chopped lettuce (lettuce is 89 cents a head at Tesco), chopped cucumber (69 cents a piece at Tesco), sliced green olives (I get a huge jar of green olives at Lidl for less than 3 Euro), ranch dressing (can buy in some Tescos in Dublin area or make recipe above), shredded cheddar cheese (I buy 500 grams of shredded cheddar for less than 3 Euro at Lidl), diced tomato (always cheap), diced onion (always cheap again) and cottage cheese (if I have it – can be purchased for less than a Euro at many local stores).  You can make your own croutons out of old bread by tossing bread cubes with butter and seasoning to taste.  

#5.  Buttered Noodles:  If you’ve ever gone into a Noodles & Co. in the states, you may have seen or even tried buttered noodles.  Sounds weird, but can be excellent.  Pasta is cheap in this country.  You can usually buy a bag of penne for less than a Euro (particularly at places like LIdl and Aldi).  Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, melt 1 cup of butter in a frying pan.  Add 2 teaspoons of garlic powder, 1/2 a teaspoon of Italian seasonings, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 a teaspoon of black pepper.  Melt completely, but do not burn.  Shred Parmesan cheese.  To serve, fill bowl with hot pasta, pour plenty of butter sauce over the top and sprinkle generously with cheese.  Again, the Parmesan and butter are going to be your most expensive purchases, but you should be able to get more than one of these meals out of a blocck of Parmesan.  It depends on how much cheese you like and how many people are eating.  

Fresh Cucumber and Bean Salad: Low GI Menus


Today was the final day in my fourth week of Sásta.  I have successfully completed 12 sessions.  I didn’t miss a day or a week and I’ve stuck to the low GI lifestyle as best I can.  Of course, I still have a lot to learn and I’ve got a good ways to go before I’ve perfected my daily meals, but I’m doing great.

I knew going into this program that I probably would not see the same results as others.  The program promises the loss of one pant size in four weeks.  Because of my physical problems, I knew that this was not likely to be my outcome.  I have two separate heart conditions.  The first is heart block.  Basically, one side of my heart does not communicate with the other and so my heart stops beating.  Because of this issue, I have a pacemaker.  I’ve had it since I was 22.  I just turned 32 on Tuesday.

The second heart condition is rapid heart rate.  Because of this problem, I’m on medication to keep my heart rate regulated.  A doctor in Germany suggested that weight loss would be very difficult for me due to my heart problems.  Because my heart rate doesn’t do what it is supposed to, I would find it difficult to lose weight.  He wasn’t kidding.  I have tried many things over the past few years and though I’ve achieved slight weight loss here and there, nothing stuck.  For the most part, my weight stayed the same for a few years, but in 2011, it spun out of control and I packed on an additional 40-50 pounds.  I did lose some of that weight on my own and even losing just it would not make me completely happy (although happy enough).  I have a long road ahead of me, but I’ve come to realize that the time is going to pass anyway.  I may only lose a little bit each week.  I won’t see instant results, but as long as I am improving each week, I can’t ask or expect anything else.

Here are my current results.  As of last Monday, July 15th, 2013, I had lost just under 7 pounds (6.6 to be exact).  As of Wednesday, July 17th, 2013, I had lost 27.5 inches all over (measurements for tummy, hips, thighs, upper arms, forearms, neck, bust and calves).  Do I wish I had lost more weight?  Of course, but can I argue with 27.5 inches?  No.  I think it’s great.  I am building muscle too and I have improved my weight and inch loss each week.  As long as I’m continuing to lose each week, I will stay happy, although I realize that  there will come times/weeks when I don’t show any loss.  It happens to everyone.

My hope is that I continue to see the same inch loss each week through the end of August.

So, that being said, time for a recipe.  I still haven’t perfected a second cucumber soup recipe, but I have discovered this lovely salad that I can eat unlimited quantities of and I want to share it with you.

Ingredients

4 cups of cucumber, peeled and diced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 cup of red onion, finely diced

1 cup of black eyed peas or British peas (canned)

2 Tablespoons of black olives, chopped

½ a cup of crumbled feta or salad cheese

2 Tablespoons of lemon juice

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

½ teaspoon of Italian seasonings

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Toss everything together in a bowl.  Refrigerate.  Serve cold.

This recipe has been slightly adapted from the recipe here: Cucumber Black Eyed Pea Salad 

About the Author

Beth Lytle works with The Site Gardener as copywriter and editor, project manager, and marketing director.  She also works on several other ongoing projects, including Seen It MagazineTranscription Connection, her Winded Gypsy expat blog and varying small projects.  Beth is also a distributor of It Works! Body wraps for weight loss.  Visit her site at http://slimmingireland.myitworks.com for further information.  Connect with Beth on Facebook for constant updates to her projects.

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