Stress Monger

March 27, 2011

I think I’m a stress monger.

Ok, I know I am.

I worry, I fret.

Not that I worry that everything will be bad, I’m not a negative monger. More so I worry if I can get it all done and make progress.

Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done, at least by my agenda, that I fail to breathe, be, and enjoy the moment at hand.

So I keep trying to figure out ways to release myself from the burdens I place on my shoulders.

Yoga helps, yes. It forces me to stay in the moment if only for a while, I have to… otherwise I’ll fall down.

Laughter is a good thing too.  Spending time with friends and loved ones makes me feel calm, makes me stay in the moment.  And of course a little wine never fails to make things seem more amusing.

Lists.  Making lists seem to help.  What helps more is actually crossing things off the to do list.  Sometimes I make a list of things I’ve already done, just so I can cross them off.  Kind of gives my psyche a sense of accomplishment.

I think part of my problem is that I’m never satisfied with the status-quo.  I tend to look for ways to improve, new ideas, a change of scenery, the next thing that will fill the empty spot where my career once was.  I get a bee in my bonnet and have to shake things up now and again.  I guess that’s just how I’m wired.

Look forward, move ahead.

If one thing doesn’t work, try another. Why not?  Who says you have to finish one thing first before you start the next.

Who says you can’t be the servant to many masters?

Being frazzled isn’t that bad….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lactose and Digestion

March 12, 2011

If you’ve read through any of my Natural Health articles you will see that I am on a quest.  I have struggled most of my life with my weight and energy levels.  Even though I ate healthier than most of my friends, even though I was out there riding bikes along side the rest of the gang, I still struggled…my energy lacked.

After years of dieting and beating myself up with negative self-talk about what a failure I was with statements like, ” I have no will-power”, “I’m lazy”, “I over-eat” …I decided instead to start figuring out just what the root cause of my issues were.  I started to love myself and accept myself for who I am despite the size of my thighs.

My quest has been to find the triggers and the key to unlocking the mystery of my good health.

I’d like to stress that my health is different from your health.  What works or doesn’t work for me may not yield the same results for you.  I’ve spent about $20,000 figuring out that very thing.  Doctor after Doctor told me to “exercise more and eat less”. (to use Charlie Sheen’s word,) Duh.  Or, that I was “pre-dispositioned to weight gain”.  Yeah, thanks for that revelation.   I can’t tell you how many times I was looked at with disbelief when I told them what I ate and how much I exercised. I was treated time after time as a number on a chart instead of as an individual.  Not one of those Doc’s ever asked me about digestion or tested me for food allergies.

Our health is completely individual and you really have to try many things and experiment to find your triggers.  You are lucky if you find a Doctor that will help you do this. If you haven’t found one, keep looking. I highly recommend a Naturopath.

Firstly I believe most of us are born with functioning metabolisms.  I say most, because I’m sure many are born with issues that plague us from start.  Like me, for example.  I was not a breast-fed baby. Research shows that breast fed children have better immune systems and lower adult body weight.  Interesting.  Much, much later in my life I found out that I am lactose intolerant.  When I told this to my Mom, she says “well that explains why you always used to throw up your milk when you were a baby”.  Hmmm – you think?. Doctors back then told her to use dried milk powder or go with skim milk instead.  And now, after much experimentation, I know that dried milk by-products are one of the things that irritate my stomach the most.  I have major digestive issues. And “digestive problems are an underlying cause of adult weight issues”.  Hmmm. Connected?  Why? One theory is, when the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs from the food we eat, it will hold on to everything that is ingested in an effort to get proper nutrition.

So some of my triggers are dairy, dried milk proteins such as Casin and whey, in fact most any dried or hydroginated ingredient seems to give me heartburn.  Heartburn, by the way, is not triggered because your body is over-producing acid, it’s because you are under-producing enough acid to break down your food. So anti-acids only perpetuate the problem.  For me the key to digestion is taking supplemental Digestive Enzymes and eliminating the food additives that bother me.  Dried milk proteins being one of them.  Just doing those two things helps me sleep at night, allows my body to digest food properly, allows the nutrients to actually get into my body to work, and ultimately gives me more energy. That is just one trigger; and one example of how underlying food issues can affect us.

Isn’t it amazing how inter-connected things are?

 

 

 

Mom’s

February 20, 2011

I just had a conversation with my daughter. She so makes me smile.  She and I have the kind of relationship that I have with my Mom.  When I imagined  being a parent, this is what I wanted.  Me having interesting and thought-provoking conversations with my daughter. Laughing, listening, sharing, appreciating each other…it’s all good.

My Mom has always been my best friend. Even when I denied it,  even when I was young and my friends were way more important than my relationship with her, she was there for me.  She is the one person in my life that I could always, always be honest with and she promised she would always be honest with me.  Even when it hurt, I had to respect the truth.  Even when I didn’t want to hear what she had to say, a part of me knew she was right.

My Mom is so wise.

And now it’s come full circle.  My daughter listens to me.  She appreciates my words of wisdom this time. She laughs and tells me she loves me.  She says she feels blessed to have me in her life and doesn’t know what she would do without me. Considering I didn’t give birth to her, I take this as the greatest compliment I could ever get.

It makes my heart so happy– my big “Love-Puff” heart is full.

I love you daughter.

Links

February 18, 2011

So much talk these days about linking.

We up-link, back-link, are linked-in.  We want links to our web sites, blogs and facebook.  I get it, links are good.  Links bring you visitors, readers and google-love.

But I’m not sure I understand how to do all this linking.

I love writing for my blog.

It’s an outlet for me.

It’s a way to organize my thoughts.

A way to reach people and share the human experience.

A way to connect to some one even if there are no links.

Is that so bad?

Sugar-Free

February 10, 2011

So to follow up with my sugar saga I thought I’d let you know the results of my Sugar-Free experiment.

About 3 weeks before Thanksgiving 2010, I decided to go “off” sugar.  I was having several aches and pains and after some research I knew that inflammation was more than likely the cause of my pain, and that the inflammation was more than likely caused by sugar. Admittedly I have a bit of a sweet tooth, always have.

So in a brave move (I thought), before the holiday season I decided to give it a whirl.

Couldn’t hurt, right?

Actually, going sugar-less wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  Oh sure I had a few cravings, got a little cranky for a few days, had a few headaches, but my resolve was solid. I hung in there.  By the time Thanksgiving rolled around I was doing pretty good. My knee pain dissipated and the gotta-have-it cravings were no more.  I admit, I gave into temptation and had a tiny bit of pie. I’m sorry but it’s practically impossible to turn down my Mom’s homemade pie, in fact I think it’s a sin.

But I went back on the sugar-less wagon immediately there afterward.

By Christmas my knee pain was almost gone.  I couldn’t quite kneel on it, and I couldn’t bend it for any length of time, but the constant ache and stiffness that had driven me nuts every day for months was all but gone. Again, tempted by my own homemade chocolate chip cookies this time, I gave in.  Just for the record, I do make the best chocolate chip cookies – Ok Tammy if you are reading this, I may have stolen your recipe – but mine are really quite fantastic too and you just can’t give them out to people if you don’t try a few first, right?

Anyway, after the New Year I stuck to my guns and stayed off sugar again.

So now here it is coming up on Valentine’s Day, and I can actually say that I am pain-free.  Yes, I said it, pain-free.

I wake in the morning with no stiffness.  I can bend my knee for a fair amount of time without the ache and sharp pain when I straighten it again.  I can climb stairs without it feeling ever so weak. I can even kneel on it.

I do not, and did not, take anything for the pain.  No Ibuprofen, no muscle creams, no wraps or ice/heat treatments. I didn’t even do any strength exercises for it.  The only thing I did differently was eliminate sugar.  And you can see by my admissions I wasn’t perfect at that either. Because, if I had really eliminated all sugar, I would have had to give up bread too.

What is gone from my life?

Scones, muffins, pastries most any kind of sweet bread. – Not that I ate a lot of this kind of thing, but occasionally I indulged.

Soda Pop – although I rarely drank it, I did have a Coke once in a while.

Candy – mind you the only kind of candy I really like is chocolate so I didn’t really miss anything but that.

Ice Cream, Puddings, Sweet Yogurt – I’m lactose intolerant anyway, so these omissions did not really bother me.

What is also gone?

Bloating/Puffiness/Water retension

PMS

Cravings

Those annoying aches and pains

12 pounds

My monthly zit

And, best of all, my larger size pants

Yesterday I had a particularly emotional Dad day and for some reason went temporarily insane. I stopped to get some groceries after work. I was very hungry and my blood sugar was really low. On a whim I bought a glazed donut and ate it on my way home.  After a nutritious dinner my husband whips out some pudding, I ate some of that.  Then I found a piece of chocolate in the freezer and ate that too.  I felt miserable. And what was worse was that I slept miserably. I awoke several times during the night and I had a bit of heartburn.  But mostly I just didn’t sleep soundly. And I usually sleep pretty well.

Today I feel hung-over.

I know that the sugar affected my sleep.  I know this because the other few times I’ve eaten sugar during this experiment, I didn’t sleep either.

I guess the purpose of my story here is to illustrate the effects that sugar has on your body.  We are programmed to eat sugar in this country.  The food manufacturer’s put it in everything.  It affects our digestion, our weight, our pain, our sleep.  Then they sell us a bunch of drugs to combat these annoying side effects.  Many times we brush these ailments off, thinking, “oh it’s just part of aging – that’s why I can’t sleep or that’s why I am gaining weight or have aches and pains”… but really what we ingest plays a tremendous role in how our bodies function, we just have to learn how to interpret what our bodies are saying.

The question is, are you willing to give up sugar to alleviate what ails you?  I am shocked, time and time again, by people who are not.  They would rather take anti-acids, weight loss aids, pain meds, sleeping pills and what not, spending hundreds of dollars a month so they can keep on feeding the sweet -monster inside. Aside from the enormous cost, think about the side effects all those drugs have on your liver.  Then when your liver is shot, think about the cost of a liver transplant – maybe that will sway you…

OK, I want to give your sweet tooth a tiny ray of hope.

Mid-experiment, although I really was’t craving sugar per se’, I was missing chocolate terribly. I called Nutritional Weight and Wellness (the local holistic wellness and nutrition experts) and asked their founder and head nutritionist, if eating dark chocolate would affect my blood sugar.  I told her my story and goal and she said that “a small square of dark chocolate, as long as it’s 70% cocoa or more PER DAY (yippee) would not affect inflammation and would actually be beneficial with the antioxidant properties in the dark chocolate.  As long as it was only one SMALL (1″ x 1″) square of a chocolate a day.”

So that was my saving grace. I keep a bar of Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt in my freezer and when I felt I needed something sweet, I ate – no – I savored, a tiny square.

It satisfied me completely.

Plan-Prepare-Purchase

January 29, 2011

Here it is, my second column for the Zenith – the un-edited version.

Here we sit, buried in snow, temps dipping below zero and the last thing on your mind is probably your garden.

But this is prime-time for garden planning.  I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent curled up with my 10 lb. “Encyclopedia of Gardening” during winter time.  Some how it soothes the soul to look at photos of perennials in bloom.  To see green grass, colorful blooms and blue sky, it’s quite uplifting.  And in the doldrums of winter, often times my gardening books are what get me through till spring.

I like to think of planning your garden or landscape as a process, not so much a one-time occasion. Each year we have built a new bed or added on to an existing bed; expanding and problem solving as we go. For what may have started as a flat, rectangle plot of land now has trees and shrubs, hardscape and habitat.

I have gone out to the garden center with much anticipation.  Blooming shrubs and flowers tend call my name, and consequently, I’ve been known to over-buy now and again. If you are just starting out or wanting to re-vamp your landscape I have some vital tips to help make the project go smoothly.

Firstly, have patience.
Things will inevitably take much longer than you anticipated.

Secondly, be aware of budget.
Gardening is not a cheap hobby.  Annuals will cost the most yearly, perennials are more cost up-front and a good tree can cost hundreds, not to mention the cost of edging and planting materials. So know how much the project is going to cost you before you begin.

Thirdly, only buy what you know you can get planted in that weekend.

Many times I have purchased shrubs and flowers with full intention of getting them in the ground that weekend, and more often than not, they have sat there, baking in the sun, drying out and yes, even dying. So that bargain shrub was not such a bargain after all.  Which why I stress, only buy what you can get planted that day or the next day.

Part of the reason they don’t get planted is because I haven’t planned.  Before you buy ask yourself, “Do I have a place ready to put this plant?”  “Is there a bed ready?” Is there something that needs to be moved or divided first?”  Before you get all excited and start purchasing, PLAN, PREPARE, then PURCHASE.

PLANNING
Part of planning a bed or landscape has much to do with visualizing.  That 6ft willow tree is small now, but in a mere five years that willow can be 30” in diameter with branches that can consume an entire yard. “Do you have the space?”  “What is the overall concept of your landscape?”  “What is the space going to be used for?” Whether you want to create a purely visual flowerbed, a space for entertaining and activities or more practical things like a windbreak you need to plan this in advance.  It will save you money over time.

PREPARE
Once you’ve decided on a location, size and purpose for your garden,  you’ll need to prepare the area.  Usually we start with the perimeter.  Either by using a hose or spray paint we mark the size and shape of the bed we want to create. Then we dig a trench around the border so we can put in our edging.  Once the edging is in place you can backfill for stability.

Then comes soil preparation.  My yard for example, is mostly clay.  So to get the soil in top planting condition I need to amend it with a mix peat moss, compost, sand and black soil.  It’s best to dig out the existing soil and layer in the additives so you get a nice loamy mix.  I haven’t always done this, but the things that grow best are in the areas that we took the extra time to prepare.  Don’t forget to think about drainage.  If at all possible add a thin layer of rock at the bottom of your planting area. It can make all the difference in the world between success and failure.  Adding 4-6 inches of river rock at the bottom of your bed (2-3 feet deep) will create a drainage field and allow moisture to both collect and drain.  This step is essential for flower or vegetable gardens. That way your plants won’t drown in a heavy rain and in times of drought some moisture will be retained down under to feed them.

When planting around your house pay special attention to the foundation and gutters.  If you do not create a slope around your house you can potentially cause a lot of damage.  Talk to professionals before you start digging around your house.    If you are unsure of your soil type take a soil sample and send it off to the University for testing.  For a nominal fee they will give you a breakdown of what your soil is and how to amend it for planting.

The Planning and Preparing phase can take weeks, especially if you are a weekend gardener like me.  So that is why I suggest waiting to purchase until you are ready to actually plant.

PURCHASE

This is the fun part.  During your planning phase you should have figured out the purpose of your bed and a general layout of plants.  It’s most visually appealing when you have a variety of plants, but not necessarily have every plant different.  Think in groups of 2-3 or 5 (depending on space) of the same variety, plant them in masses.  Mix in some deciduous along with some evergreen.  Make sure you have something flowering in each phase of the season – spring, summer, fall (but don’t forget about winter interest either) as well as varying heights.  Think texture, fragrance and bloom color too.  Be sure to allow space if the plants are spreaders (like yarrow) and know the zone and soil, light and water needs for each variety.

OK, I know this seems like a lot to think about but really once you’ve spent some time learning about the possibilities and habits of your plants, maintaining your garden is really just a labor of love. Stay tuned for further more in-depth articles for each of these phases.

Winter Interest

January 19, 2011

Two years ago I set out to make some changes.  I decided I wanted to write a column.  I didn’t have a solid idea as to what I wanted to write, as you may have noticed I have a lot of different interests.  But nonetheless, I took steps to make it happen.

My first column went to press just before Christmas 2010.  It’s not in a big newspaper, certainly not a household name, but it’s a start.

I’m grateful that someone was willing to take a chance on me. To give me an opportunity for a by-line, to give me a chance to learn the lingo, and the processes of the business.

It feels really good.

I finally realized a goal.

For many years I felt like I was just spinning my wheels.  I finally got some traction.

So here it is, my first official printed column.  This is my un-edited version.  There is a link on the right side of my page to the Zenity Weekly.  It is a kicky little paper headquartered in Duluth, MN.  It’s off-beat and a fun read.

I am now officially,  “The Accidental Gardener”, in-print and on-line.

Winter Interest

As much as I enjoy spring, more specifically, late spring when I can finally get to the garden center and pick out the early bloomers to adorn the front of my house; I love my winter planters for much the same reason.

As the pansies and mums poop out after a good hard freeze or two, I’m usually left with a half a dozen dead planters and window boxes.  Being that winter feels like it lasts so much longer then summer, I have to do something about these unsightly pots, specifically the window boxes. There’s nothing worse for a gardener then staring at a bunch of empty planers (or dead flowers) all winter. And if your window boxes are anything like mine, they have discolored the house behind them, so it’s not like you can take them down for the season.

I say decorate them!

Since pine is one of the few green things in the winter, it is an obvious choice for the planters.  Your local garden center or home improvement store, perhaps even the Boy Scouts, will usually start to stock Spruce tops in early November.  Here’s what you need for some spectacular containers…

-Spruce tops – they typically come in a bundle of approximately 10 tops per. One bundle is plenty to do a couple of 12” pots or 30” window planters. Cost is roughly $20/bundle.

Now spruce tops alone are ok, but a bit boring.  So we need to add other natural materials to add visual interest. Some of my favorite materials include, White Pine Boughs, Boxwood, Dogwood Branches, Rose Hips, Chinese Lanterns, Holly, Eucalyptus, Winterberry Branches, Corkscrew Willow, most anything really. You may be able to find many of these items in your very own yard, and a little winter trim doesn’t hurt your bushes a bit.  If you don’t have any of these in your yard, you might want to add these to your landscape.  They’ll do double-duty for you all year long.

Before you start filling your containers, first you must prep your pots.  Keeping the dirt from the summer’s plants is just fine, but pull out the dead stuff and try to get most of the roots out if you can.  Once you get your soil cleaned out, you can add a little more dirt if need be.

Here’s an important tip:

Don’t wait until the pots have frozen, plan ahead, get out there before it gets consistently cold.  That way your soil is loose and you can get your greens deep enough into the soil.  If the soil is already frozen bring your pots indoors for a few days and the dirt will thaw enough to work with.

Start by adding your spruce tips.  Usually you get a variety of sizes of branches in your bundle. Some are longer and more well formed like a tree top, some might have a curve to them or be a little bare on one side or the other, so you may need to work with the natural growth pattern of the branches.

In a round or square pot, use one of the more perfectly formed branches as your center. Add about 3-5 smaller branches around it.  Use ones that arch to the left on the left of center and vice-versa.  Hide any barren sides toward center, but first trim off any areas that may be dead.   Do yourself a favor and wear some tough gardening gloves, the kind with the rubber palms or even leather.  It’s inevitable, you’re going to get stuck with the pine. Once you have your branches in place, water them in.  Give them a good long drink.  And continue to water them at least once a week until the soil freezes.  Once frozen, the branches will stay green usually until at least March.

Now is the fun part.  I like to change up my pots a little for the holidays so I may add some fall leaves, Chinese Lanterns, gourds or small pumpkins to my pots for Thanksgiving and then remove these and add berry stems, holly, ribbons or even ornaments for Christmas.

I do not recommend using a natural fall leaf in your pots.  Once they die they will crumble and fall apart, so I cheat a little and use a silk fall leaf from a craft store.  You can pick up a few stems with multiple leaves for under a few dollars.  I add these at the very top of the soil, being careful not to go in too deep.  One year, during a particularly rainy, then cold fall, the soil froze solid and I had fall leaves until January when we got a quick thaw.  Maybe you’re ok with that, but it bugged me to death, so now I pay a bit more attention to the depth.

Add a couple leaf branches in between the spruce tips.  Three is plenty. Now add some twigs.  Red dogwood is a personal favorite of mine.  Cut several branches about 6-10” longer then the spruce and some a little shorter. Fill in the empty areaswith at least 3 if not 5 branches. You want them to arch outward.

Be free to experiment and play. Adding at least 3-5 different elements will create a lot of visual interest.  I also love to add eucalyptus for the fragrance and berry branches for color.  Winterberries are a favorite for the birds.  By adding these, you help keep food available for our feathered friends and it’s fun to have the birds visit.  What I learned in the past, and wholeheartedly recommend, is DO NOT use fake berry branches.  Firstly, they are harmful to the birds.  And the birds will think they are food. Secondly, during the winter they tend to fall apart and you may end up with a bunch of ratty looking styrofoam balls in your planters, frozen solid, so your stuck with them until a thaw.

You can add holiday decorations in December and then remove them in January to keep a cleaner look to your planters until spring.  Take advantage of any January thaws to freshen up your planters with a fresh batch of white pine or more berries to carry you through to spring.

You’ll be amazed how creating interesting winter containers keeps a fresh look to an otherwise dreary winter season.

Love Makes the World Go Around

January 17, 2011

I’ve been trying to help out my folks.  Not that there is anything that I could possibly do that would ever repay them for all they have done for me. But I have to do something. They are going through so much with my Dad’s illness and I have to do something, anything to feel useful.

They are so appreciative. They thank me a million times for doing really very small things. Like running the vacuum or picking up something from the store; just menial tasks– yet they are so grateful.  I keep saying, ” it’s nothing compared to what you’ve done for me.”  I would do anything for them. Anything to make their stress a little less, their day a little easier, the nights more restful.

I wish I could do more.

They have given me so much love, so much support, opportunity and education.  It was their guidance, their laughter, their love that turned me into the person that I am.  That can never be repaid with errands. Yet they never miss the chance to thank me, to tell me how much they love me, to tell me how great they think their kids are.

I wish the people of the world could learn to treat each other the way my parents treat us kids. With encouragement and opportunity.  With acceptance and compassion. With empathy and respect.

There is so much hate out there.

Why?

Why can’t we learn to live with our differences and honor them.  The world would be a boring place if we all held the same ideals. Can you imagine a world with only one style of art, literature, music or political views?  A world where we were all the same color, had the same hair or same smile?  And I know religion is a point of contension, but if we all believed in the same God, would that make us better?

What makes us interesting is our differences.

What makes us human is our ability to empathize.

Imagine a world in which we all lifted each other up instead of tearing each other down….

Life has an inevitable end

January 2, 2011

I’ve spent the better part of the last two months crying.  Every day brings more tears. A random thought crosses my mind and the tears start again.

It doesn’t matter where I am, who I’m with, what I’m doing…I can’t keep them at bay.

About 6 weeks ago my life as I know it, forever changed.  That’s when we found out just how sick my Dad really is.  Out of respect for my Dad’s privacy I won’t go into the detail.

Normally I write as a way to deal with my emotions.  But for probably the first time in my life, the words haven’t come.

There are so many things I want to say to him, yet I don’t want to seem like it’s over so I try to just stay in the moment.  I know it’s hard for him.  I know seeing me upset, upsets him.  But I want to make sure that he knows how much he means to me. And how much I respect him and everything he’s done for our family.  How wonderful I think it is that he and my Mom have made it through almost 60 years together and stuck it out when times were tough.  How much his silly jokes and poems and laughter has meant. And I don’t know how to say these things without it seeming like the end is here.

And then there’s things he needs to be here for…the grandkids graduating college and getting married–great grand-kids.  Their 75th Anniversary…my book being published…

He’s got some time. Just not enough.

My Mom said they always talked about how she was going to live to be 104, which would make him 108.  But he says he wants to die just one minute before her, so he never has to live one minute without her. That is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.  And now…that will never happen. At least not the way they planned.

Many things won’t ever happen again.

This was probably our last Christmas…the last time my folks called to wish me a happy new year.  No more silly birthday songs…

Everything feels like the last time.

And I can’t stop the tears.

Soon enough, every thing will be the first time without him.

Life has an inevitable end.

But I just don’t know how to deal with that.

I don’t want to deal with that.

I can’t deal with that.

So I cry.

Then I think of my Mom, and how it’s a million times worse for her.

And I cry some more.

World’s Best Appetizer – Ranch Stars

December 30, 2010

If you are having a holiday party and you need a fun appetizer, then look no further. I have the world’s best appetizer–Ranch Stars.  Now I like to give credit where credit is due.  I admit, I didn’t come up with this recipe.  An old friend brought them to one of our annual Christmas parties.  I’ve changed it up a bit since she first brought them, and that is what is so great about the recipe, you can add your own personality to them.  So Nicki, wherever you are…every time I make these I fondly think of you.

RANCH STARS

1-2 lbs  good quality sausage (I like Whole Foods Italian, spicy mixed with mild or whatever good sausage they have come up with that day) – browned well, cooled and drained

1 lg. red bell pepper minced

1 lg. green bell pepper minced

*Add or substitute yellow or orange bell peppers too.

1 med. jar of pitted green olives minced (remove pimento)

1-2 Jalapeno fresh peppers minced* (optional)

2 cups shredded cheese (mix Sharp Cheddar with Monterey Jack)

1+ cups of prepared Ranch Dressing (I like a Peppercorn variety)

1 pkg. Wonton Shells

Brown sausage, cook well, drain all fat, let cool.

Clean, core and de-seed the peppers. Slice into strips. Mince fine – 1/8-1/4″ pieces.

Mince olives.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Slowly add dressing until mixture is moist, depending on how much sausage/peppers you use, you may need more or less dressing, don’t over-coat.

In a pre-heated 350 degree oven, place wonton shells in a dry muffin tin, creating a little cup.  Bake for 9-10 minutes until lightly browned.  Repeat until all shells are cooked.

Fill shells with mixture, a good heaping spoonful will do.  I make a plate full at a time. Microwave for 1-2 minutes until cheese melts, serve immediately. These will go fast so be sure to have a second plate ready to go into the microwave.

This is a great recipie to play with.  You can add mushrooms, black olives, tomatoes or go Tex-Mex and add corn, black beans and jalapenos. Add your favorites to make them unique.

I make these for my family at Christmas, in fact, I’m not allowed to even come to Christmas unless I bring them.

These make a great appetizer to bring and share.  Can be made ahead of time, travels well.  Keep meat mixture in sealed container.  Will keep for up to 5 days.  Keep baked wontons in a separate air-tight container until ready to fill.

This mixture is versatile too.  The next day you can make ‘Ranch Star Omelets”, simply warm a couple tablespoons of the mix and place it in the center of your cooking eggs. Or, make “Ranch Star Quesadillas”.  Place in a tortilla shell and brown.  Or “Ranch Star Nachos” spread across your favorite chips and melt. Because of the versatility I tend to make enough mixture so we have left-overs, 2 lbs of meat and an extra pepper does the trick and keep a small bowl aside for us at home.

As appetizers go they are fairly healthy.  Using a good quality lean sausage and a variety of vegetables gives them a fair amount of protein and nutritional content.  Ok the cheese and the Ranch dressing is a little fattening, but hey, if you don’t over-do it they won’t hurt you.

Allow a good hour for prep-time.

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