Monthly Archives: December 2012

Fun Times Friday: Date Night Creativity

If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you know that Mike and I go on a date every Saturday night. Each week we switch off planning and paying for them and, if possible, we make it a surprise. So last week was mine and, considering I’m on a VERY tight budget I’ve had to get pretty creative with what we do. My budget most weeks is about $25 for both of us. How the heck do I figure that out??

Well if you keep an eye out for free events going on in your town, you never know what you’ll find! There’s a nice, upper class area called Peoria Heights that I drive through every once in a while and I saw a sign for “Chocolate in the Heights.” You know those signs that you tend to ignore because you’re just too busy going about your day? This was one of those. But since I’ve come to realize my not awesome financial state, I’ve started actually looking at those signs! There was no description of what it was, just that it was the next Saturday (yes!) from 10am-5pm. I did a little searching and found a slightly more detailed poster for the event.

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Using my deductive reasoning, I assumed that each boutique and shop on the main street would have some kind of deal on chocolate and/or something free to offer. Done and done!

As usual, I planned to take him to this event and then bring him home and cook a nice, sit-down meal for us both.

I kept it a surprise until we parked in the Heights and let’s just say Mike looked less than excited. However! I kept the energy going. I gave us $15 to spend on chocolate and whatever else we wanted and, because I had to work late, we had an hour to do it.

It ended up being REALLY fun. Of course we only took one picture because I was too excited to remember to take more. But we discovered a whole street of awesome shops we didn’t know were there: an oil and vinegar shop with about 30 different types of gourmet vinegar (cool!) and a few more specialty shops with random but also really unusual knick-knacks. We got some great gift ideas for Christmas.

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^ Yep, I look like I’ve just discovered gold.

We used this as our food vacation day and got lots of delectable treats. Free stuff we indulged in: chocolate fountain (see above), chocolate pretzel clusters, oil and vinegar samples, cheese, wine, beer, and chocolate cupcakes. With our $15 we bought an amazing triangle of cheese, a bar of specialty chocolate, and some Pear Balsamic Vinegar. And we had such a good time scoping out the options and then going back to the shops to purchase what we wanted.

So it’s possible! To have a few hours of fun and still stick to your budget. You just have to keep an eye out for free things around your town.

Happy Friday everyone! 🙂

Thirsty Thursday: Spiked Peppermint Hot Cocoa

I don’t drink very much. In fact, I really dislike being drunk. So when I do drink, it’s because I love the taste and the calmness it can sometimes give me. Anyway! I get lots of questions from patients (whispered of course) along the lines of: please please please tell me I can still have a glass of [insert alcohol here]? Good news! While the company I work for may not condone it, I whole heartedly support a solid glass of something alcoholic every once in a while.

Wine is great, beer is great, and liquor is great BUT (you knew it was coming) there are a few rules to remember when drinking:

1. Alcohol is very high in calories and while I don’t think ANYONE should be counting their calories, they should be monitoring the amount of bad calories they take in. And yes, alcohol counts as bad calories. So if you’re trying to lose weight, limit the amount you consume.

2. Most mixed drinks are loaded with sugar. And I mean loaded. If you’re going to have hard alcohol, mix it with soda water, tonic, or just drink it straight. This keeps the calories and the sugar content down. My drink of choice is tequila on the rocks with lime. Delicious, effective, and relatively healthy.

3. Normal beer contains lots of gluten. Some people are unknowingly gluten-intolerant. If you’re getting outrageous hangovers, a bloated belly, stomach pains, or headaches while drinking it may be time to consider the gluten-free option of drinks. Redbridge is my favorite.

4. Non-organic wines have added sulfites and lot’s of people react to it without knowing they’re having a reaction. If you experience any of the symptoms from #3 while drinking wine. Try organic wine and see if they go away. Organic wine has no added sulfites. Any sulfites in organic wine are naturally produced through the fermentation process. If you find that you have less of a reaction with organic wine, try sulfite-free wine next and see if that feels even better.

Side Note: If you feel at risk for addiction, there are special rules that apply. You should limit or completely stop your intake of alcohol until you speak to a psychology professional.

With that said, I recently made one of my favorites. A delicious, holiday drink:

Spiked Peppermint Hot Cocoa (1 serving)

Ingredients

2 cups coconut/almond/raw milk

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

1 oz (half a nip) of peppermint liquor

Instructions (not sure why the photos are so crappy, sorry!)

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1. Heat the milk in a pot on medium heat. Stir in cocoa while heating.

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2. Remove from heat, stir in liquor.

Enjoy! 🙂

What’s your favorite holiday drink? Let me know and I’ll try to make a healthy version.

Workout Wednesday: Do You Brace?

The brace: anyone heard of it? Not like for your teeth or a broken limb, for your abs silly! It’s this position that you should be aware of no matter what type of exercise you do. It strengthens your core, supports your back, AND helps give you that awesome 8-pack you’ve been dreaming of.

Brace: tighten your lower abs. Tighten so you feel like your attaching your abs to your lower back. Now keep your abs there and breathe. This is how you should be exercising. There are exercises where the brace is more important but if you can learn to do this throughout your exercise routine you’ll start to see huge differences. This applies to weight lifting, riding bikes, running, swimming, EVERYTHING!

Finally for today’s workout:

Beginner through intermediate (12 minutes)

– 20 seconds on/ 20 seconds off

– each exercise 3 times in a row

Advanced (16 minutes)

– 30 seconds on/ 10 seconds off

– each exercise 4 times in a row

Exercises:

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1. Tricep Dip

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2. Speed Lunges (hold your feet in place. quickly straight then bend legs into lunge. switch sides half-way through each set)

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3. Russian Twist

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4. Swimmers

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5. Fire Hydrant (switch sides half-way through each set)

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6. High Knees

Now I have a question for all of you: How many times a week do you workout? Once, Twice, 6 times? And for how long each time?

Hope you’re all having wonderful Wednesdays! 🙂

 

Tasty Tuesday: Guacamole!

Who doesn’t love guacamole? And all you people out there that are shaking their head, “no I hate guacamole, that delicious healthy fat combined with all those savory veggies and awesome spices, I hate it.” Obviously something’s wrong with you. The great thing about making your own dip is that you can take out any flavors you don’t like!

With this batch, I decided to try to add some protein. I put in some black beans and they are so tasty. Definitely be doing that again.

Guac is great to bring to parties with some crackers/chips or to put on top of salads. And it makes taco night SO much better. Plus, it’s so easy! This took me about 20 minutes to make and it will (hopefully with some restraint from Mike) last at least 3 or 4 days.

Easy Black Bean Guacamole

Ingredients

3 ripe avocados

1 small onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, pressed

6 oz salsa or 1 medium tomato, diced

juice from 1/2 lime, 1/2 lemon, OR 1 orange (I didn’t have anything else and it actually worked really well)

1 tsp cumin, to taste

2 tsp sea salt, to taste

1 tsp ground pepper, to taste

dash of chili powder

6 oz black beans

Instructions

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1. Our avocados were unripe yesterday so I took them out of the fridge and wrapped them in a brown paper bag. For some reason they ripen faster in paper bags. This morning they were perfect.

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2. Cut avocados in half, take out the pit, and scoop into a large bowl. Add all other ingredients besides black beans. Mash it all up with a fork or masher.

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3. Stir in beans or other add-ins. Taste test it! Mess with the spices however you see fit. It looks kinda gross but it is OH SO GOOD!

What is your favorite way to eat guacamole?

Hope you’re all having happy days 🙂

“Use This” Monday: Raw Milk

So this post may blow your mind a bit. Everyone knows the ads: “Got Milk?” According to the California Milk Processor Board, “milk has protein to build muscle and a unique mix of nutrient to help you refuel.” This is completely true, for FULL-FAT, UNPASTEURIZED, RAW dairy. Let’s get down and dirty with the facts here.

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The Problem: milk in process

First the cows, whose natural diet is grass, are fed grains. They are packed very closely together and fed a diet that their bodies don’t know how to process. They contract diseases and pass them between each other like hor d’oeuvres at a cocktail party. To keep them from getting fatally sick, their farmers pump them full of antibiotics and hormones and then milk them.

The milk is then separated. This process removes the dirt and debris. For skim milk, it also separates the milk fat from the milk. For full fat milk, this part of the process divides and separates the fat globules. Not even the fat is full in full fat milk!

Then the milk is “fortified” with Vitamin A and D. I’ve always had a bad feeling about any of my food being fortified. Shouldn’t it already have all the nutrients it’s supposed to without us messing with it?

On to pasteurization. Whole and skim milk is heated to 161°F (72°C) for 15 seconds. This kills all the bacteria that may be leftover from our diseased cows. It also breaks down the lactase and makes the good parts of the milk unrecognizable by our bodies. There are almost NO NUTRIENTS in pasteurized milk.

The milk is then homogenized. This breaks down the fat particles (again) and distributes them more equally throughout the milk. This part of the process prevents the milk from separating and floating to the surface as cream after it is packaged. Why is the cream bad? Do we really need to break down the milk particles even more?

WTF mate!! That’s what you should all be saying right now. How did our milk become so molecularly altered? The biggest reasons for this extensive process is that people tend to get sick from diseased cows. We need to nuke the crap out of that milk to get rid of all those germs. Well here’s an idea, how about we just focus on having healthy cows! Organic, raw, unpasteurizing farmers avoid disease by feeding and keeping their cows the natural way: in fields, eating grass.

Unfortunately, it costs a small fortune to fund and distribute from farms like that, meaning raw milk can be pretty expensive.

A note on skim milk: most people have been trained to believe that fat is bad. Well some fat is bad: chemically processed and altered fat like canola oil, Crisco, and other oils heated until they’re rancid. But some fat is good: natural, unrefined fat like coconut oil, raw dairy, olive oil, organic eggs (even the yolk!), and many others. So please stop trying to just remove fat from your diet, instead just make sure that the fat you do eat is in its raw, unrefined, unheated form.

The Solution

1. Find a farmer in your area that you can trust. My bosses get theirs delivered to the office! They also buy their beef in bulk from the same farmer. This website gives a sweet list of raw farmers in every area of the US.

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OR use other kinds of milk such as coconut, almond, oat, hemp, etc. Unless it’s specifically labeled, the only way to really ensure that even this milk is raw is to make your own. Coconut milk is pretty easy to make from coconut flakes and water (see this recipe). But for those of us without a Vitamix (I want one so badly!) you can make raw coconut milk from canned Thai Kitchen brand (see this recipe).

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OR find a natural food store that sells raw, unpasteurized milk. There may be more than you think. Supernatural brand dairy products are organic, from grass-fed cows, un-homogenized, and heated to the lowest temperature allowed by the FDA. This is called VAT pasteurized and is definitely the lesser of the evils. Your health food store may carry a different brand. All you have to do is ask!

Why? Personal Motivation.

Conventional milk is so much cheaper and easier to find than raw milk. It tastes good too! Why would you spend all this time and money searching out the raw milk? Well I don’t know about you, but I eat food not only because it tastes good but because it give my body the nutrients I need to stay healthy. If I can drink a type of milk that helps me get my vitamins and minerals, why wouldn’t I take that trade? It is the same with all healthy eating.

Also, I thought I was lactose intolerant for about 2 years. Then I tried raw, full fat milk and I had no reaction! Pasteurization removes lactase, the natural enzyme that helps your body break down the lactose in dairy. Those who are lactose-intolerant can drink raw dairy!

 

There will always be a cheaper, less healthy alternative. You need to determine why you eat the way you do and figure out if raw milk is worth it for you. Honestly, while writing this post, and finding that not even the coconut milk I was drinking is  imperfect, I felt myself breaking down. Why do I do this?? Nothing I every buy will be perfect. I’ll have to make everything from scratch. NOOOOO. I don’t have the time.

So for me, I will be choosing the lesser of the evils. My unsweetened, organic coconut milk will do just fine for now. There is no lactose, no additives, and no underlying chemicals like in normal milk. This milk is much denser in essentials nutrients and fat than anything else I can afford. And as soon as I feel prepared and driven enough, I will start to make my own coconut milk.

Also, normal, organic milk just doesn’t really appeal to me. I haven’t had it in years and still don’t love the taste or the idea. I have this view that humans aren’t really supposed to drink milk beyond their babyhood. But that’s a whole other topic and not something I’m prepared to argue right now.

So I have even turned the tables on myself with this article. Becoming healthy is a never-ending battle, but it’s worth it. As we become more informed, our industry will have to start catering to our needs. We, as consumers, have a lot of power.

If you are interested in the full scientific write-up, check out this Mercola Article. And another great article from Real Food University.

Any questions, suggestions, or points I’ve missed? I’m still learning too!

Hope you’re all having wonderful Mondays! 🙂

 

Friday Advice: Budgeting for the Less Than Wealthy

The other day I received a request from a good friend of mine. Like many people who read this blog, we haven’t spoken or seen each other in quite a while but she follows this and every once in a while gets a nugget of knowledge she can actually use. I love hearing from those people! Anyway, she asked if I could share some of my budgeting techniques and, while I’m definitely no financial guru, the situation I find myself in demands a serious ability to budget. So here are a few steps that are absolutely necessary to gain control of your finances:

1. Know Your Situation. You should be able to answer all of the following questions that apply to you.

What’s coming in? What are your sources of income? What do you get paid for each of these every month (down to the dollar)? Who pays you and how?

What do you owe? Take a look at your credit cards, house/car/student/etc. loans, and loans from family members. What was the principal? What is the interest? What’s your balance right this second? When are your payments due? How much will you be paying?

What’s going out? Exactly how much do you spend each month on the necessities? Groceries, rent/mortgage, utilities, gas, medical expenses, household supplies, pet supplies, EVERYTHING.

What are your assets? I don’t really have any of these but if you do, you should know them inside and out. How much did you initially invest? What is it costing you now? How much are you earning from them, if anything? What could you get if you sold them right now? Does it look like that will improve in the future? Keep your eye on the market to make sure you have the most up to date information.

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My favorite tool for all this is a fantastic and FREE website: Mint.com. It is run by the same people who developed Quicken. You enter all of your online banking information and they gather it into one, easy to read website.  Don’t worry about them leaking your information, they’ve got a water tight privacy policy. You have to check into your “transactions” every once in a while to make sure they have them categorized properly but once you do that, Mint will tell you how much you have spent on any category in any period of time (I operate on a monthly basis). You can also keep track of all your loans and assets AND you can layout your financial goals. I only use it for tracking but I can see how the other stuff would be very valuable.

2. Lay It All Out

Mint will help with this but you should absolutely have a spread sheet (or several) that has all the information for all of the above financial aspects. They can be very simple if you’re Excel (or Numbers for fellow Apple users) challenged like me. It just needs to show the answers to all of the questions from #1 so that you can quickly and easily access and change them.

I have one spreadsheet for each of the following: Loans (principal, interest rates, lenders, servers, current balance, monthly payments, payment terms), Monthly Expenses (groceries, household, rent, etc.), and Credit Card payoff goals (balance, interest, monthly goals).

Be realistic about the information you enter here. It won’t do any good if you lay all this out then go and spend another $100 on little things that you hadn’t counted or anticipated. I rounded all of my numbers up to the nearest $50 just so I was sure I accounted for everything I might be missing.

Use these spreadsheets to document past spending and anticipate necessary future budgeting.

3. What’s Your Baseline?

Now that you have all the information gathered, it’s time to stare down the cold, hard truth. I remember the day when I actually got all my loan information together.

Personal story time: I was at home, on holiday, and spent the day calling loan providers. After about 6 hours of this, I realized how dire my situation was. I had been pretty frugal with my money in college. For the first couple years I obsessed over how much money I would owe when I was done. It became so mentally taxing that I just had to let it go and trust that I would handle it when I needed to. Well the time has come to “handle it” and the reality of student loans sucks!

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So I researched for 6 hours, documented it all in my spreadsheet as I went along, then cried for about 3 hours. There was no way I could live the way I had planned with all the payments I had to make. So I made some calls. I called my boyfriend for emotional support and to figure out how we would wrangle it. He volunteered to help with my portion of a cost that we both share (thank goodness). Then I talked to my parents to see what they would do in my situation. Then I called my best friend who had seen and dealt with my tight budget all through school and consoled me that I had done all I could to minimize this debt while I was accruing it. Never hesitate to talk to the people you love about your finances. They may have some really great suggestions.

My situation was so bad that I actually had to approach my boss at the job I had had for 3 weeks to ask for more money. Well, kind of. I asked him for more hours, more responsibility, and more money OR a more structured schedule because I would have to get another job. Luckily he agreed to the former. And 5 months later I have finally come to terms with the way I must live, now I’m just making it happen.

Ok! Back to my guide. Look at your spreadsheets. Are you in good shape? Are you earning more money than you absolutely have to spend on basic necessities? For me, the answer to this question was NO. So question #5 was especially important for me. If you are earning more, check out #6.

4. For Those With Loans, Can You Consolidate?

I had a very vague understanding of Loan Consolidation until I was forced to do it myself. I’m so glad I finally discovered this world! Basically, loan consolidation is when you use one lender to pay all your loans off. Then you end up only paying one entity. Sometimes you can actually get a lower rate than you would have had with all your separate loans. But the interest rate should definitely never be any higher than you would have paid otherwise. This is where your loan spread sheet (see #2) comes in handy.

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I had thought about consolidating but thought my loans were much too big. Then, one day my Gran called me one day and asked if I’d heard of this College Education Services. She saw an ad in a magazine and thought I might be interested. They are a group that services federal loan consolidation. “Yes Gran, I’ve heard of everything, I am the expert on everything financial and I know everything about the world.” Seriously, that was my first thought. Luckily, I decided to check it out anyway and lo and behold, she was right.

Although some of you may not have voted Obama, he has given us students a great opportunity to minimize our loan payments. I know you can consolidate on your own but I didn’t want to open Pandoras box of federal loan jargon and contracts, so I hired them to do it for me. I paid them a fee of $400 (massive for me right now) and they handled ALL the paperwork of consolidation. I think it was worth it because I know that they got me a much better payment plan that I would have gotten myself. Instead of $350 a month, I will be paying $80 a month in federal loans. Payments are based on income and reassessed every year. If the loan isn’t completely paid off in 15 years, it is forgiven. Sweet! Obviously I hope I’m making enough to pay it off but, if not, I have this to fall back on.

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Now I had my federal loans taken care of, what about the massive beast of private loans hovering over my head? Very few banks will consolidate any more than $30,000 in private loans. Let’s just say I have WAY more than that. I turned to the internet to see what I could find. I checked first with all my current loan providers and, voila! A credit union I borrowed from offers much higher consolidations. CUStudentLoans.org They are a non-profit organization that finances then helps students handle their debt. They gave me a fair rate and have made the process relatively easy, although long. Please let me know if you’re thinking about using them, I get some kickback if I refer a friend. But honestly, I would highly recommend them. They have been very accommodating with all of my uninformed and frantic questioning and are giving me a great set of terms.

5. What Do You Want Your “Flex” To Be? Should some of it be focused elsewhere?

Allowing yourself a Flex fund is just as important as budgeting for the necessities. I love to shop. I can’t help it, I love to search out bargains and find things that I really love or that others might really love. A huge fear of mine was that I would never be able to reign in my shopping spending.

Once I developed my income and my baseline costs, there was very little leftover for any kind of shopping. My average was about $150 a month on frivolous things. Looking at my spreadsheets, I definitely didn’t have that much to spend. So instead of cutting my luxury spending completely, I just cut it back. Obviously, groceries are more important than a nice sweater, but it is also really important that you never feel trapped by your finances. Give yourself a bit of wiggle room to do the things you love. I now allow myself about $50 a month to spend on things that I just want. Instead of shopping at TJ Maxx, I shop at Goodwill! I also learned couponing from my coworker and keep up with a few blogs that show online deals. I’ve discovered my ability to find unbelievable bargains and now shopping is even more satisfying!

Another thing that is important for me to maintain my happiness is being able to go out with friends and go on dates with my man. This one is a little tougher because I don’t have complete control of where we go or what we do. So it’s just about having some boundaries. I’m forever looking for free or cheap events in my area so that when it’s my week to treat Mike to a date, I can show him a good time without shelling out a fortune. We go do something fun then I come back and cook a nice, sit-down meal for us both. Restaurants are expensive so we limit our eating out to once or twice a month. If we do go out together or with friends, I limit myself to one drink per 2 hours and just sip water in between. You don’t have to get drunk at a bar to have fun!

Because these particular aspects of my life are very important for me to still feel free, I trimmed the fat from other areas to be able to afford them.

6. Where Can You Trim The Fat?

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With our healthy eating, our grocery costs were getting extortionate. So I’ve started meal planning. I cook three dishes a week and just double the recipes. Leftovers every other day are really convenient AND delicious. It also means that I can have a handle on the very basic groceries we need for a week. We are reducing the amount of food that goes bad and making sure the dishes we eat are cost-effective.

We called the cable company and got ride of all our “extras” and saved $20 a month. We turned the heat down and put on more clothing. And we started eating from groceries rather than ordering in.

Basically, we prioritized what we really wanted and needed and reduced or trashed the rest.

Ps. I have mentioned this in past posts but I find it unnecessary to have a gym membership. I use My Yoga Online ($10 a month), Zuzka Light (free), my bike (some initial overhead), and the sidewalk (free) for my indoor and outdoor workouts. They are closer to home than any gym and I get to choose what I do every day.

7. Where Will Your Extra Earnings Go? Plan For The Future.

I have very little extra earnings. Even so, it’s important to me that I never find myself in this position again. Every month I set aside a little bit of money. This is for future travel, possible unexpected car costs, gift giving, and larger future investments. If I had a choice, I would be putting away an even larger chunk of untouchable money. Something in a savings account reserved only for when I want to buy a house or a car or even have a baby. Don’t worry, all those things are years down the road, but I don’t want to be caught unawares and unprepared. I want to ensure, as much as possible, that I never again owe this much money or am under this much financial strain.

Learn from your mistakes and develop a way of fixing them and making sure they never happen again.

WOW. That was a very long post. Even if you just skimmed it, I hope you got something from it. If you have any questions of even any suggestions for me, please comment them. I’m always looking for new and creative ways to budget and save.

And thanks Allyson for encouraging this!

Thursday Recipe: Bean Burgers

I’m not a vegetarian but good grass-fed, organic meat is expensive! So I’ve started to explore getting protein in other ways like from beans and other legumes as well as seeds and nuts. I just recently (while I was writing this post) learned that legumes form a fuller protein when eaten with grain so I’m stoked that we ate them like an open-faced sandwich. These were really really good. They were a little crumbly (like most veggie burgers) but great on a half-bun and ever better over a salad the next day. I made a double batch so that’s what we’ll be having tonight for dinner too!

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I got the base for this recipe from this book. This was a written by a chiropractor at our company and is AMAZING.

Bean Burgers (makes 8 small patties)

Ingredients

2 cups (about 22 oz) Garbanzo Beans (chickpeas)

1 onion

splash of high heat oil (coconut is my favorite)

1/2 cup gluten-free bread crumbs (you can make your own from GF bread or just buy some)

6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 Tbsp rosemary

2 Tbsp Tahini

juice of half a lime or lemon

dash of sea salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

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1. Thinly slice the onions and saute until soft and beginning to caramelize. Season with salt and pepper, then place in a large mixing bowl.

2. Blend or food process garbanzo beans, tahini, garlic, and lime/lemon juice until smooth. Add to bean mixture.

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3. Add all remaining ingredients and combine thoroughly. Use your hands to roll form into balls about the size of a baseball (love using my hands in cooking!). Use a bit of plastic wrap to cleanly and neatly form them into patties.

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4. Heat a little more oil and cook burgers until heated. Serve on top of half a gluten-free bun topped with dijon mustard and ketchup with a side of steamed veggies or salad.

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Enjoy!

Does anyone have any big events they need to cook for this month? What do you want me to cook?