SoBo Mama's Tips & Tricks











I missed out on the last big family trip.  It was a trip to New Orleans, right before Crazy Math Lady ventured off to Africa and I hosted her farewell bunco. The repercussions were bigger than I realized at the time, but it was important for me to stay home. Now I might choose differently.  Not sure.

So a month or so ago, Nana and the Biloxi Babe (awesome cousin!) started making plans for a Memphis trip. They set it all up, from hotel to tours – all we had to do was show up!

The trip fell on a weekend during state testing. Grizzly’s brother, sister, and spouses had work commitments and were unable to attend. While most of the family headed north on Thursday, school stuff kept the rest of us a day behind.

As soon as Monkey #2, the last arrival at the House of Cheaptitude, jumped off the school bus, we loaded up the pimpmobile and headed out.
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We did stop at Waffle house in North Shreveport before hitting the interstate!

Fast forward to 11 Friday night. We arrived at the Holiday Inn Express on Union, in the Medical district. A Red Bull and Cappuccino in, I got the fam settled in our room and headed to the mini gym to finish my 10k steps.

The next morning, we met in the lobby for a yummy continental breakfast and called for cabs to Beale St. Why plural? We had 14 people to transport!
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We had requested a van, but you take what you can get sometimes. We sent the monkeys with Nana and crew, while the cousins waited behind.
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It’s a good thing we like each other. By the end of the night, we were piled in a Prius. Of the 6 of us, 3 of us are 5’11 and taller!

We were dropped off at BB King’s to wait for the tour bus. We sat on the outdoor patio, did a little shopping – I’m all about magnets – drooled over the apparent Corvette convention, and quenched our thirst.

Btw, I love 3 year olds. I taught Minnie Mouse that corvettes are “the best cars ever.”
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Finally, we crossed the street to the Hard Rock and boarded the Backbeat Bus Tour. So many amazing sites, with musical accompaniment!
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We saw Johnny Cash’s old house, Elvis’s housing project, Sun, the hotel where MLK, Jr was assassinated and so many other places! The tour guide was amaze-balls, sharing all kinds of cool trivia you can’t just get anywhere….
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After the bus tour, we crammed back into cabs and cruised back to the hotel. On the trip, 2 couples actually had vans and we figured it was a better idea to drive ourselves to Graceland for our tour than to wait for more taxis.
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There was free parking on Lonely St – near Heartbreak Hotel!

We started out touring the mansion and grounds. All I can say is WOW.
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We were given iPads and headsets and allowed to tour at our own pace. We weren’t allowed upstairs, to the family’s private quarters, but that would have added massive time to the tour and I was already on sensory overload. While the decorating was not to my taste, it was really lavish for the era.
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And the grounds were breathtaking.

I think the best part of the tour for the monkeys was the airplanes. I enjoyed Elvis’s car collection myself!

I think every part of the tour had shops and food. Grizz and I split some Memphis BBQ nachos.
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When we got back to the hotel, we took a little rest time before dinner, then cabbed to Overton Square to find dinner. Several places didn’t allow under 21 folks, so our options were on the limited side with 4 little monkeys. Did we end up eating world famous barbecue? Nope. We settled on a yummy German place. The tables were picnic style and we didn’t all get to sit together but we still got to visit while we ate. There was also musical entertainment from an impromptu barbershop quartet!

Nana and crew gave the marrieds a free pass so we decided to head back to Beale for some night life and grown up beverages. We tried to ride the Roo, a bus with a kangaroo on the roof, but her route didn’t go to Beale. We finally found a cab when I jumped in the street to flag one – and it was a van so we had a little more room!

We checked out several places on Beale, preferring the ones with no cover charge. It started raining so we popped into a gift shop for $3 rain ponchos. From a smoky pool hall to Coyote Ugly, we explored. We finally settled into some patio chairs on the sidewalk in front of a bar, Club Handy, with a to-go window and people watched.
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Eventually we located a Prius cab driven by the Serbian cabby and squished back in. Teacher Cousin knew his life story by the time we pulled into a convenience store for Grizzly and Music Man to pick up beer!

The fellas wanted to sit by the pool and visit and while I was exhausted I fixed coffee and prepared to join them. While doing so, I overheard the concerned security guard telling the night clerk about the “redneck that just went to the pool with a 12pack of beer.”. Oy! What memories! When I got to the pool area, I did feel apprehensive, spotting my ” redneck” excessively close to the pool! (Turned out he was taking photos of a duck in the pool!)

Sunday morning marked the end of our part of the trip. We ate breakfast and drove over to the famous Peabody to watch the ducks march.
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We walked back to Beale to grab lunch. The rest of the family was going on to the Civil Rights Museum, and we’d be heading home. BBQ King chose Dyer’s, a burger joint famed for its 100 year old grease (google it! Craziness!) and we’ve seen it on Man vs. Food.
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Now, the burger that Monkey 2 and I split was amazing but not for those watching their girlish figures. I restrained myself and partook in just a sip of her hand-dipped milkshake. Grizz destroyed a Diablo, which was a variety of meat and grease – and a slightly extended rest stop in Little Rock!

It was not fast food and the waitress was so rude. Just sayin’.

Grizz and I stepped outside in the sprinkles and did some more people watching.
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And found a nice alleyway that meets Music Man’s standards.

After lunch, we stopped to see the Irish jumping goats at Memphis’s answer to Pat O’s. Due to inclement weather, they were chilling in their hut, but we can say we saw them!
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It was such a whirlwind trip and I’m sure there is more to do, but we had a great time. Very family friendly overall and one heck of a bonding experience!

Do you ever do quickie weekend trips?

~ Katie

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It’s an ongoing argument in my house: how to eat meat.  I can’t stand any pink while the Griz has the Woody Harrelson approach – wipe its hiney, etc.  In a restaurant or with store bought meat, it’s easily resolved.  However, most of the meat that comes in my house is game.

After a few years of hunting, Griz has come to my way of thinking, more bang for my buck at the processor with ground venison.  But we always end up with “cuts” as well – back strap, round steak, cutlets, etc.  To cook these cuts to make mama happy dries out this lean meat, leaving it more like jerky than the juicy steak my husband seeks.  But again, the first glimpse of pink and I’m done, son.

He refuses to budge on back strap, his favorite part of the deer.  It will always be “grilled” (um, barely seared!) medium rare.  And I’ll eat pb&j that night.

Cutlets we have found to be fabulous in a stew.  Otherwise, we really haven’t figured out a great option.

The round steaks, I googled and was frustrated with the results.  Even in a slow cooker, people report over drying.  The temp on most modern crock pots, even on the lowest setting, is too high.

Grrr.  Y’all know I love my crockpot.  Time to experiment.  This is how I did it:

A few packages of round steaks – not sure an exact amount, I just eyeball it.

Several splashes of Worcestershire

1 can cola

1 can Dr. Pepper

1 can beef consommé

A healthy sprinkle of Chicago steak seasoning

Add water till the pile of meat is covered

I set my crockpot on low for 8 hours and hoped for the best.

Results:  smelled like pot roast.  Tender, juicy, falling apart.  Monkey #1 and I barely had any because Grizzly and Monkey #2 devoured it. 

I’m trying it out again today.  Monkeys have karate and church, Grizzly has an 8-ball tournament, so dinner will probably be on the run.  This way, it’s ready when folks get hungry.  All I have to do now is fix some rice and brown gravy, cook up some broccoli, and call it a meal!

What cooking experiments have you tried lately? Any successes that should’ve been fails?

~ Katie

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{December 29, 2014}   The Clearance Buggy

Some women love shopping for clothes, shoes, make up.  I love shopping for food and toilet seats.  If I could spend half the day at the home improvement store, I’d be one happy mama.  If I could spend an entire day grocery shopping – oh my!  Are you familiar with the saying about a pig in slop?  Yep, that would be me. 

Groceries are a game, a challenge.  How do I get the most yummy/useful stuff for the least amount of money and still stay within my miniscule budget?  I love it.  I’m always looking for a new way to squeeze extra pennies into my buggy.  The latest trick?  The clearance cart in the produce section.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are really pricey.  I try to buy things that are in season, buying extra on the cheap to can or freeze for later. Recently, I saw a cart at the back of the produce department in my local Brookshire’s, full of produce bags.  Upon closer inspection, I found every bag was marked $2!  Extra ripe bananas, apples, and oranges were my very first haul.

I often tell people Monkey #2 can eat 5 pounds in a sitting. For once, this was a bit of an exaggeration. Banana bread, banana muffins, and applesauce were side benefits of the clearance buggy. Anything to pack the freezer!

Now when we go to the grocery, the monkeys make a beeline for that back corner. They know if the price is right, mommy will bake.

What’s your favorite grocery trick?

~ Katie

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In the early, NoBo, kiddo-free days of my marriage, my husband and I discovered Pizza Pizza.  There was a Little Caesar’s right by the grocery by our house, and for $8 we could get 2 pizzas, providing our dinner as well as lunches for a few days.  It was lovely. It was filling. It was cheap.

Once we moved to South Bossier, our dining choices became more limited.  First, we had two monkeys and not as much money.  Also, there weren’t many options in our part of town. A diner,  McDonald’s, and a few other fast food options, but nothing too exciting.  Especially since I didn’t care to cross the bridge to Shreveport often.

Our part of town is developing, though, and with more residents comes more shopping and food.  Most exciting for the House of Cheaptitude was when a new shopping center opened less than a mile away and the first store? Little Caesar’s.

A basic pizza had gone up to $5, but they had a great family meal deal, and we started getting these on a regular basis. 

Grizzly and I ran to Caesar’s a few weeks back because we were out of dinner ideas and wanted something quick and easy for dinner.  It was the night of the Homecoming parade and maybe we weren’t the only ones with that plan, but….

1. No more family meal deal. That was the first disappointment.
2. We sat for more than 45 minutes, waiting for a pepperoni pizza and a cheese pizza. Several people came in, visited with the lady behind the counter, got their pizzas, and left in this time.
3. When we got home, our “cheese” pizza was sausage. Monkey #2 and I picked off pepperoni.

I’ll give a restaurant another chance, because anyone can have an off shift. Unfortunately, our Caesar’s has not improved. I’ve actually placed my pretzel crust orders ahead of time and not had any better luck.

Little Caesar’s is now at the bottom of our list of “fast” food choices. Due to poor customer service and value, I’ll give them a score of 1.5 on a scale of 1 to 5.

What is your favorite go to when you need a night off? Have you been extra disappointed in a fast food restaurant?

~ Katie

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{September 28, 2014}   Applesauce Autumn

I don’t recall ever having store bought applesauce as a kid.  I never ate the soupy yellow slop in the school cafeteria that was touted to be applesauce. I’m spoiled.  I ate homemade applesauce.

I remember chunky, not too sweet,  applesauce in quart jars from Gram’s fruit room in the basement. Sometimes, she’d make a fresh batch to go with dinner, and I’d sneak chunks of apple from the dishpan. I wasn’t so slick – she knew exactly what I was doing. And I never saw her canning it, but she must have, because there were always jars downstairs, pretty and golden and full. These days, canning is too much bother and she freezes containers instead.

My absolute favorite was always Great Grandma Sweitzer’s pink applesauce. Was it sweeter? More cinnamon flavored? Or was it simply that it was an infrequent treat? And I may be the only one who really liked it. I never can get Gram to make it for me.

When the weather turns a little cooler, my comfort cravings arrive. I watch for good prices on acorn squash and roasts. And as apples go on sale, I walk through the grocery, Droid to my ear, asking Gram which ones and how many I should get for a batch of applesauce.

Honeycrisps are good for eating, but no good for applesauce, and too pricey by far, she advised yesterday as I strolled through my Brookshire’s.

So I purchased several McIntosh, a few Red Delicious, and some Braeburns.  It takes a variety to get a good flavor, according to Gram.

As forty lurks in the not too distant future, and I’ve been away from home over twenty years, one might think these phone calls unnecessary. After all, I’ve made applesauce, baked Mac & cheese, and acorn squash on my own hundreds of times now. And I probably don’t have to call her every time. (“Don’t you ever write things down, Katherine?” “Do you have your pencil and paper ready?” I always lie and say I do, and she always knows it’s a lie). By this point, I do it out of habit. It’s an extra excuse to call my grandma.  She’s getting older, and someday I won’t be able to call and bother her with silly kitchen questions that I can answer myself or Google. So I’ll do it as long as I can.

So here is the off the top of my head because I never really write it down instructions for easy applesauce:

Easy Applesauce
3-4 varieties of apples, totaling about ten pounds
Sweetener and cinnamon, to taste

Peel, core, and cut your apples into chunks. You can run through the blender, but you may as well buy it at the grocery for that.

Place your chunks into a good-sized pot.  Add some water till your chunks are just barely covered. They should not float.

Bring to a good boil for a few minutes. Turn down and simmer till soft.  I test mine once in a while with my potato smasher.

Once soft, you can mash them easily. Give a taste and start sweetening. With the right apples, it won’t take much.

I live hot applesauce on a little ice cream.  I like it chunky and tangy. You just can’t buy it like that.

We will eat some of it, but I’ll can the rest.  It’s one of my autumn routines.

What are some of yours?

~ Katie

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I’m having anxiety because my freezer meals are dwindling.  A few weeks back, I decided to throw some more meals together.  I’ve seen “Cheeseburger Soup” recipes, but have yet to try one, or even look closely at them.  For my Burger Soup, I just threw things in my gallon sized ziploc  that appealed to me.

Freezer to Crockpot Burger Soup
1 lb. browned ground meat – venison in my house!
1 pkg. frozen mixed vegetables
1 pkg. frozen skillet potatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can beef broth
1 can water
Season to taste

Label, lay flat, and freeze.  Crockpot low 6-8 hours. It would be awesome with some shredded cheese.  I actually added a bag of tater tots upon arriving home, as well as some sliced cheese.  This thickened it too much, and we ate on it for three days.  Obviously I need to tweak a little!

It was easy, filling, and satisfied my freezer filling desires for a minute.  What are you doing to feed your freezer?

~ Katie

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{September 1, 2014}   Recipe: Broccoli Burger Braid

First of all, my CDO isn’t as severe as Jeepnmom’s. Let me make that crystal clear right now.  I don’t lose my poo over nearly as many things as my precious bff. I’m all about some routines, though, and my Monday dinners are a big deal to me.

They started while Pioneer Woman was deployed, so her husband had a home cooked meal at least once a week, and have continued for over a year.  Usually l chunk something in the crockpot on my way out the door, due to faculty meetings and schedules. The one Monday I actually attempted to cancel, they showed up with pizza and beer. They know me and my “stuff.”

Today is Labor Day. Most of America is grilling with family and friends. Not the House of Cheaptitude. 1. Grizzly is working. 2. Pioneer Woman is traveling. 3. Pioneer Woman’s hubby hasn’t been to Monday dinner since June. 4. I don’t grill.

I didn’t feel like a freezer meal though.  And I had an idea that sounded divine to me.  Have you ever been to a Pampered Chef party and had the yummy Chicken and Broccoli Braid? One of my favorites.  I rarely make it because I’m always crunched for time, but it sounds good today.

I don’t have some of the ingredients. I don’t like some of the ingredients.  So here is my take on the braid.

Cheeseburger Broccoli Braid
1 cup browned ground meat (deer, at my house)
1 cup shredded cheese
2 tablespoons mayo – I actually add more so it’ll be more moist. You can also use ranch dressing – yum!
1 cup finely chopped broccoli (tonight I’m using green beans because I’m out of broccoli!)
Garlic powder, salt, pepper, dill to taste
1 package refrigerated crescent rolls – almost bought just the sheet dough!

Combine everything but the dough in a bowl. Mix well  – everything should be moist.  On a cookie sheet – I use a large bar stone – roll out the dough and press the seams together.  Using a knife or pizza cutter, slice the dough 1/4 of the way in, matching each side, about 6-8 times.  Scoop the filling into the middle strip of the dough. Bring the cut sides together and twist. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-17 minutes.
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So there it is. It may be just the monkeys and me, but it’s a yummy, easy dinner!

What’s your go-to when you have some extra time?

~ Katie

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By request of Georgina 🙂

Sometimes I just can’t find a recipe that exactly fits whatever it is I’m craving, or happen to have on hand.  That’s when some of my favorite concoctions are born. Sometimes they backfire, but this was yummy and filling.

Sausage & Potato casserole
1 package smoked sausage ( I always do beef)
1 bag frozen skillet potatoes
2 cans cream of whatever (I use potato) soup

Slice and brown the sausage.  Dump all of it in a labeled freezer bag.  On cooking day, dump the concoction in the crockpot with 1/2 cup of milk.  I also add a bag of shredded cheese – I really like cheese.  I’m sure sour cream or Greek yogurt would only make it better. Crockpot on low 6-8 hours.

If you try it, let me know what you think!

~ Katie

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{August 9, 2014}   The Recipe Binder

I am one of those people who would love to be a stay-home mom. If I could ever stay home! I get a taste during school breaks, but end up running around so much that I’m always ready to face the 8th grade again.

One of the things I love about being home is the idea of cooking. Notice, it’s the idea. I try to cook nearly every night, but often it’s something I throw together (beer pancakes and eggs, anyone?). Or, on really busy nights, a can of store brand ravioli (gasp!). I have several cookbooks and a box of recipes that I really like, but our schedule often limits my kitchen creativity.

And, honestly, how many of us really explore every recipe in a cookbook? I have one cookbook that I’ve tried several new things, but with most of my collection, I have only one or two. And what good is my recipe box if I can’t find Aunt Fran’s cocoa mix recipe when I want it?

This is where my recipe binder is coming in.  I will have a place to maintain those frequently accessed recipes, while decluttering my cabinet.  My dividers will have pretty traditional categories, with a few exceptions.  I need a divider for clipped recipes I’d like to try, as well as one for my freezer to crockpot recipes.

Where is my binder?  It’s still all in my head, totally in the planning stages.  I’ve copied and pasted all of the freezer recipes I love to a Word document and can print those any time now.  And I sold off several cookbooks in my garage sale last week.  So I’m getting there.

It’ll be a fun distraction when I should be lesson planning.

The dividers I’m planning so far include:
1. Freezer to Crockpot – this is for the recipes I’ve collected since starting to freezer cook – a lot of Sidetracked Sarah and Six Sisters.

2.  DIY Convenience Foods – breakfast burritos, oatmeal, granola bars, etc.  Things I might buy but should save money and do myself.

3.  Appetizers – I don’t do a lot of appetizers, but this is where I can include yummy dips and such.

4.  Sides, Fruits & Veggies – “Car-house” grandma’s macaroni & cheese, her applesauce, and that sort of thing.

5.  Main Courses – sorted by meats

6.  Casseroles

7.  Desserts & Snacks

8.  Beverages – grown up as well as kid-friendly! I will probably color code these….

9.   Family Favorites – tried and true things that I need quick access to regularly.  This should be near the front.

10.  Test Kitchen – recipes that I want to try.

11.  Miscellaneous

I thought about including DIY household and beauty, but I think my cleaners will better serve in my cleaning binder, and beauty stuff in my self-improvement binder.  I love a good binder.

So that is my next project, with the added bonuses of decluttering my cookbook collection and some Pinterest boards.  How do you handle recipes?

~ Katie

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{July 30, 2014}   Kitchen Adventures

I’ve been trying for the past few weeks to get my house clean/organized enough to take the annual back to school hit.  I have huge piles of *stuff* for my garage sale this weekend. I have multiple binders started. And, as of this morning, I really needed to go to the grocery.

Monkey #2 ate sweet peas for breakfast.

The 4-legged monkey had spaghetti.

I used a paper towel as a coffee filter.

Hmmm.

So, this morning since the fridge was mostly empty, I took all the shelves and bins out and cleaned them.  Most of the bins fit in the dishwasher. The 3 main shelves, cold cut bin, and crispers went through the kitchen sink. Dawn dish soap is amazing for degunking and defunking all of the spills “Ida Noe” creates in my fridge. The great big bottom shelf that gets so funky? It doesn’t fit anywhere and I thought I might have to clean it on the back deck. Instead, I took it to the  Monkeys’ bath. And realized they don’t have a hosey-shower head anymore. Oops. It worked, though. I love love love baking soda. And vinegar. And a clean fridge.

I’m beyond ready for a freezer session, so I pulled up a few favorite recipes and began planning.  But I knew I was low on ground meat (come on, deer season!) and wouldn’t be going to Albertsons yet (chicken breasts for CHEAP!).

Plan in place, list made, the monkeys and I loaded up, and armed with my coupon binder and reusable bags, headed out to restock some groceries. My grocery list was short and basic – focused around making breakfast ahead. My plan was instant oatmeal packets (we go through a TON of instant oatmeal!), granola bars as a healthier snack option, and breakfast burritos.

3 stores and a hundred dollars later….

My pantry and fridge are restocked.

I forgot cheese for the burritos.

I only had enough oatmeal for my oatmeal packs.

I figured out the blender does a great job of grinding oatmeal. Food processor? Not so much. I’m pretty sure my 30 snack sized baggies of instant oatmeal saved us several dollars. There are a bajillion recipes online, if you check with our good buddy, Google. I modified a recipe to fit what I had and what I wanted (no artificial sweeteners in the House of Cheaptitude!) and actually made 4 or 5 varieties as a test batch. So far, so good, considering Monkey 1 has tried them all. After a few more tweaks, I’ll post the recipe.

Breakfast burritos are also popular in my house, but it hurts my feelings to spend so much money at Sonic, especially when they jack up my order every time. It seemed like an easy enough process. A little time-consuming since people had special requests, but I put together 30 for the freezer. Again, Monkey 1 has been the official taster, and says they’re really good. He says the tortilla gets hard in the microwave but I think a damp paper towel during heating can resolve that. I think bigger shells would have been better, also, but I was taking advantage of a good sale.

And I had enough leftover fruit snacks, etc., for trail mix.

It’s not perfect, but I feel like I accomplished a little bit. With school just a few days away, at least I know everyone will have the option for hot breakfast for a while.

I still need a massive freezer day.

What new things are you trying in the kitchen this summer?

~ Katie

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et cetera
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