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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Traveling with Clean Food, Part 1: Pre-Planning

It’s quite a food-centered week for the little blog! That’s no different than real life, though: food is on my mind ALL the time. I started cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the fam a couple months ago, and when you spend a couple hours a day preparing, cooking, and serving food, it’s hard to get it off your mind.

My work up to this point has been fairly easy compared to what I’m tasked with right now, though. Normally I just plan meals for a week and figure out where to get what from all my new food sources. But now I’m preparing for some uncharted territory: traveling without sacrificing our good diet.

That’s because this summer we’re going on a vacation! A real, normal vacation that isn’t a obligatory visit – we actually chose to take this vacation! We’re going on a 10-day road trip across the Northwestern states: we start in Washington with a visit to Mt. St. Helens, drive through Northern Idaho, then the SW corner of Montana and into Yellowstone, Western Wyoming, Southern Idaho, up through Southeastern Oregon and back home. We’ll be on the move almost the whole time and we’ll see so much! I’m very excited to get off the beaten path for awhile and disconnect from modern life.

With that disconnect, though, comes concerns about food. Where will we eat? What will we eat? Will the food conform to my new standards of organic, non-GMO, local, pastured, etc? That has been on my mind a lot now that I’ve planned out where we’re going, what we’re seeing, and where we’re staying.

Never fear, though, we can make a plan! I’ve starting thinking up strategies and here’s what I’ve got so far.

  • First, since we’re camping most of the way, we have a location and equipment to make a lot of our own food. We always make our food when we’re camping, we will just have better ingredients this time!
  • Second, we can bring a lot of foods with us. I plan on making batches of muffins, cookies, and dehydrated snacks (fruit chips, fruit leather, kale chips, etc). I’ll freeze baked goods and pull them out periodically, or when they start to thaw. I’ll also have the cooler and dry storage bags packed with fresh things we can eat on the go like carrots, apples, and granola. I’m going to make some freezer meals, like camp fire stew, that I can hopefully just thaw and stick in my cast iron dutch oven to cook while we set up camp.
  • Third, since we can’t bring ALL our food (not if we want to have room for our tent and clothes too!) I’m finding local grocery stores, farmers markets, even farms along our route. Just about every town we’re visiting has a farmers market, but only one of the markets will be going on the day we’re in town (really excited to see the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho market though!).
  • Finally, I’m looking up restaurants. I don’t want to eat a lot of meals “out,” but we are meeting friends along our route and there will be times that we should treat ourselves. We are on vacation after all! If there’s a spot with a cool restaurant then we’re not going to deprive ourselves.

Hopefully these ideas will help keep us on track with healthy eating. Next on my list to do is the actual planning – what are we going to eat and when, where is it going to come from, all those questions need to have concrete answers before we can leave. We have two weeks to get everything together. I’ll post more when I have a meal plan!

Bringing Home the Bacon

Ah, grocery shopping. Other than meal planning, is there anything more fun? Add in a toddler who MUST walk for herself through the entire store and you’ve got a load of entertainment, let me tell you!

We’ve been changing up our grocery shopping habits a lot in the last six months or so. Our baseline was your typical shopper, I think: we got most foods from a big grocery store like Safeway or Fred Meyer. We didn’t buy anything special, a fair mix of packaged foods and fresh produce. I didn’t care if things were organic or not, they just needed to look okay. We shopped a little at some smaller, locally owned grocery stores, too, but I hated going to more than one store for food.

Then when I found out about GMOs and started my New Years resolution to improve our diet, I started doing more shopping at Trader Joe’s and a couple really sweet local grocery stores. I tell you what, local grocery stores are where it’s at. If you’re lucky enough to have them close to you, check them out. Local grocery stores are where we’re getting the vast majority of our produce right now. It’s almost like a farmers market, because most of the foods are sourced locally, but they still have out-of-season foods like the grocery stores (like strawberries in January). It’s so much easier to find the organic produce at the smaller spots.

The farmers market, though… that’s where I’d love to get the bulk of our produce from. The local grocery stores just aren’t as “local” as the farmers market. The problem is I have to go by the market’s schedule. With the grocery store I can go whenever I want, but with the market I have to wait for the brief weekly window in which the farmers gather. I shouldn’t complain – here in my city there’s a farmers market five or six days of the week. But I still find it difficult to get there! And I have to plan meals more carefully and seasonally because the farmers markets don’t grow all our favorites year-round like the commercial growers. The third con on my list for farmers markers is the cost. Most of the time I don’t find them to be cheaper than the store (but Mr. Handsome is way more observant about prices than I am. I just look for what I need and buy it but he actually tries to stay within a budget. Imagine that!).

Speaking of seasonal produce, I’m in love with these seasonal charts. I want to print them out and hang them in my kitchen – both as art and as meal planning tools! Here’s the veggie chart.

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Moving on… so produce buying is sort of a balancing act between what is available and reasonably priced at the farmers market and all the choices but not quite as locally-sourced foods at the smaller grocery stores. There are some discount produce markets around here that are open all week and year-round – those are a good “in between” option. Another in-between’er is our food buying club.

We joined this club… it’s kind of a combination of group buying (where a bunch of people go in on a big buy of something like 50 pounds of honey or a whole cow), bulk buying like Azure, and farmer cooperative. We have been getting just about all of our meat through the co-op farmers and have had good luck with random boxes of veggies. I recently ordered 15 pounds of coconut oil that I plan to turn into more toothpaste (imagine that!), soap, hair products, and maybe even food. When we all had bad colds a few weeks ago we nursed them with a couple bottles of elderberry syrup that I got for a good price through the club. I’d love to start getting sundries from the club, too, but right now I still go to the big grocery store for toilet paper, dishwasher soap, vinegar, epsom salt, aluminum foil, and paper towels (we have used washable towels more lately, and I have some strategies to eliminate paper towels altogether, but I haven’t been able to implement them yet).

Now my shopping order goes something like this…

  1. Food buying club weekly for milk, eggs, cheese; monthly for meat, bulk staples, bulk produce like lemons, garlic, onion, potatoes.
  2. Farmers market weekly for seasonal veggies (if the price is right) and “craft” items like vegan chocolate.
  3. Discount produce market weekly for more seasonal veggies (that were too expensive at the farmers market).
  4. Local grocery stores weekly or every other week for produce we couldn’t find already.
  5. Trader Joe’s, if we have to, maybe once a month (we get plain Joe’s O’s for lazy breakfasts a couple times a month, beer/wine, flowers, and other random stuff at TJ’s like more chocolate).
  6. Big grocery stores for paper products, maybe once a month.

Yes, we go to more than one store to get our food now. But we don’t go to every place in one day and ask you can see we don’t even go to every place each week. I have been going to the club weekly but I’d love to cut down to every other week if it weren’t for the fresh milk that we need to get every week (Baby2 loves milk and Kiddo1 has even been on a bit of a milk kick lately). I went to Safeway last week for the first time in at least a month. I needed toilet paper. They laughed at my reusable bags. It’s a different world at those grocery stores for me anymore!

 

Book Review: Long Way on a Little

Recently we changed our source for meat so we’re getting pastured-raised chicken, pork, and beef (and a duck, too!). The chicken was an easy switch, but the pork and beef were, admittedly, not so great. They were turning out kind of rubbery and gamey-tasting. Mr. Handsome said the beef tasted a little like lamb, which he thinks tastes like rotting beef. So there was room for improvement I guess.

I also didn’t understand a few things about our new meats. Why does this meat always come frozen? Why is it more expensive if the cows are just eating grass? Why isn’t it tasting as good as people say pastured animals taste?

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Luckily I bought this copy because the pages are already splattered with cooking grease!

Enter, “Long Way on a Little,” my meat savior. I got this book because I really enjoyed Shannon Hayes’s other book, “Radical Homemakers,” and I was interested in learning about reducing our meat expenses. The book did not disappoint! I have learned so much. And it was a super quick read.

Turns out there are very simple explanations for why pastured meat is sold frozen. There are much more complex reasons for why pastured meat is more expensive, including government subsidies of conventional meat production (and other types of farming). And the reason why my pastured meats weren’t tasting great is because I was cooking them wrong!

“Long Way on a Little” is packed full of recipes for all the parts of cows and pigs, as well as lamb and whole chickens and ducks (there’s also a great explanation on why farms sell chickens whole and why we should buy them whole!). I’ve learned about “super slow roasting” my meats as well.

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Super slow roasted chuck, the best roast I’ve ever tasted!

This photo is of a 7 bone chuck roast I scored from our food buying club (more on that in another post) that I roasted in the oven at 170 degrees (I later found out that my oven goes all the way down to 140 degrees if I use the warming feature, so I’ll be doing a lot of slow roasting now!). It took about three hours to cook up to 135 – the book also explains why lower internal temperatures are not only better for pastured meats but also way more safe than the same temperatures with conventional meat.

I’ve already made three recipes from this book and I can’t wait to try more. I’m very interested lately in finding ways to use the entire animal that we purchase. With whole chickens we’ve been making bone broth, but I’d love to start using the fat from the beef and pork cuts to make tallow and lard. Luckily the methods are outlined very clearly in this book, so I’m sure I’ll be making productive use of all those “leftovers” soon. I’ve got a bunch of fat leftover from the roast that is just sitting in the fridge waiting for me to render!

I love this book very much, I highly recommend it. The pork medallions recipe from this book is the one that Kiddo1 loved a few nights ago. So it even gets his stamp of approval!

The next book up for review is “Making Home” by Sharon Astyk.

 

 

Meal Planning

This weekend was packed! I had no time or energy to post. We went to the beach Saturday after Kiddo1’s comic book drawing class, Mr. Handsome picked up a backyard play structure that he disassembled from one backyard and reassembled in our backyard, Baby2 discovered the joys of backyard water play, and we even fit in some productive tasks too! So today I thought I might write all about one of my weekly tasks that makes me feel productive, which is weekly meal planning.

Meal planning really isn’t all that fun for me. Is it fun for anyone? I’d love to meet the person who has a real passion for carefully planning out all the foods for 21 meals at once. I admit I do like meal planning a little more now that I’ve found a system that works for me, but it still isn’t something I look forward to at the end of the week!

My system has evolved a bit. I started off at the beginning of the year with a calendar book I got for free at work. It’s one of those calendars with a two-page spread for each month that a lawyer’s office gives away for free. Anyway, I started writing the dinner plan in there every week. You can see it in this picture – it is open to the month of May, which is the last month I entered in the calendar.

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Getting inspired by cookbooks and previously planned menus

Things were going pretty well with the calendar book. At least I was putting more thought into the week’s meals! I found that we definitely ate much better and MUCH more variety if we just planned ahead. I hate that time around five or six o’clock in the evening when you’re thinking – what do I pull together for dinner today? And then we would end up going out or ordering food because we’re starving and the kids are getting cranky (not the adults, oh no, never) and we all just want to eat Right. Now. There has been less of that now that we’re thinking ahead about what we’re going to eat.

Evenings improved with the calendar book. But, I found my method still left me scrambling sometimes at dinner time because I would find out last-minute that I’m out of some critical ingredient.

Now I have a new system that gives me more room to write and integrates my meal plan with my shopping list. I can tell it isn’t quite perfect – I’d like to get snacks on this somehow so that literally all the food we consume is somehow captured in the plan – but, we’re getting there!

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This week’s menu – still in progress when I took a picture of it last night

There are three columns and seven rows. The first column is for the day of the week and I can list any events going on that day that might impact our dinner plans. That has helped me prepare for a quick dinner or one that I should make in the crock pot because we won’t be home until later. I have also taken to using this space to write items I want to prepare that day that aren’t a meal, like baking a loaf of bread or hard boiling some eggs for the week.

The second column on the sheet is for listing what we’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I find that breakfast and lunch don’t change too much, but sometimes they do and when they do I need my shopping list to change, too. So the third column is for writing down ALL the ingredients I need to make each item for the day. I write down everything, even salt and pepper. This helps me deconstruct the recipe so I can use an ingredient a few times during the week. That way I don’t have half a spaghetti squash sitting in the fridge for two weeks or something.

Then I look at the ingredients and go through my kitchen to see what I already have. If I don’t have something, I put a square around the ingredient so I know I need to buy it. I try to buy things a couple days in advance, unless it’s meat which I’m trying to buy in bulk more. For some reason, if I have meat in the freezer it’s so much easier for me to come up with meals to eat! If something needs to be prepared ahead of time, like pulling meat out of the freezer, I put a cloud around that ingredient on my sheet.

This method has helped me cut down on last-minute runs to the store a lot. I have been able to buy a lot more bulk stuff, even produce, from our food buying club (more on my grocery shopping methods later) because I can plan to use it all pretty quickly. And the template is easy – every week I just take out a blank sheet of paper and trace the lines that make up the columns and rows from the previous week’s sheet. I fill in the first column with entries from our calendar and then I’m off!

Coming up with meals is now the hardest part. I want a lot of variety but finding inspiration is tough sometimes! I look to Pinterest a lot – you can follow me if you want! MotherMary9 is my screen name. I also rely heavily on the cookbooks I’ve rediscovered in my collection, plus a new one I bought that I’ll review tomorrow (Long Way on a Little by Shannon Hayes). They are great for skimming through to find ideas. Sometimes it isn’t a specific recipe but an ingredient or cooking style that sparks my cooking creativity!

Also, some days of the week are reserved for a theme. I’ve found that too many theme days is over-whelming and constrains variety, but having a few per week is nice. The whole family knows a certain day is coming so they get excited about what we’re going to eat. That helps get everyone to eat the food, too! I’ve moved some theme days around, but the ones that have stuck are Meatless Mondays (not everyone is excited about that one, but the food budget says it has to stick), Slow Cooker Wednesdays and Mac N’ Cheese Fridays (Friday is kind of our cheat day I guess). Kiddo1 would like to see Taco Tuesdays too I think. Slow Cooker Wednesdays moves around sometimes, depending on if we have something going on in the evening or not – those are great days to have dinner already cooked when we get home! I like these theme days because there is still a lot of room for variety. We could have any crazy vegetable on Monday, but everyone knows ahead of time that there will be no meat on their plate that day!

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Meal planning board and the kids’ messy chalk/magnet board that I sometimes use for a meal prep to-do list

My final menu planning thing is my chalk board. I made this board a couple months ago. I list all the meals for the week and it hangs in the kitchen so everyone can see it. It is supposed to act as a quick reference so I can remind myself what we’re eating that day, or later that week, without having to open the cupboard and look at the clip board on which I store my weekly sheet. Sometimes I think it might be more work than benefit, but I think it is cute so I keep up with it… mostly. I am supposed to update it on Saturday but that has been creeping into Sunday and Monday lately. If I don’t keep it up, though, I haven’t wasted much. I made it from a leftover scrap of wood and leftover chalkboard paint from making Baby2 a chalk/magnet board (which is just a piece of metal sheeting from Home Depot, spray-painted with chalkboard paint. I recently added a washi tape boarder to hide/protect from the rough metal edge). It needs a little improvement – the soup/salad/dessert sections at the bottom don’t get used much. They’re supposed to be things we are eating all week – I think I’ll change them to snack/muffins/dessert. And I keep meaning to add a wine cork boarder, too, I just need a few more corks! I better go work on that! Wink, wink!

 

Garden Happenings

This year we are growing more than we ever have. We have more space now than we ever have and we are taking advantage of it! We built three 3’x6′ raised beds and have filled them with all manor of foods, including…

  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Onions – yellow and spring
  • Rainbow chard
  • Romaine
  • Kale
  • Butter lettuce
  • Head lettuce
  • Rosemary
  • Pumpkins
  • Sage
  • Pole beans
  • Thyme
  • Broccoli

And there’s a ton more that I have seeds for and want to grow but haven’t had time to get in the ground. Almost everything we’re planting is from seed, but I did cave in to buying a couple tomato and romaine starts since those are my prize crops this year. I scored a bunch of free seeds with a coupon code. Sometimes it pays to be on the internet in the middle of the day!

Anyway, even though I had some free seeds I still needed to buy a couple starts because I procrastinated horribly like I do every year. I always have grand plans to start a bunch of seeds indoors but… I don’t know… it’s like I chicken out every year! I never think I can get the soil warm enough or have space to put starts in front of the window with a curious toddler hovering nearby. So I put it off and eventually just end up sowing seeds outside so I don’t have to transplant anything either.

Right now, though, I’m kind of glad I have procrastinated, because this crazy hail storm happened earlier this week:

 

That’s a whole lotta hail, enough to turn the ground white almost all over, slamming down hard into my plants. I really wanted to go out there and cover my plants, but I wan’t subjecting myself to that firing squad either!

I still don’t know the full damage, since I had planted another round of seeds a few days earlier and none of them had germinated yet, so I hope they are still doing okay under the surface. I can see the damage done from the outright assault by Mother Nature on my leafies, though. Here is the damage done to my kale. Most of these leaves didn’t have any holes at all. Some had a couple holes – I’ve been battling green caterpillars. I think I’ve been winning for a couple weeks now, but sometimes I catch a little tiny one under a leaf. They are so persistent! I hope it is because the greens in my garden are just so yummy. Whatever their motive, I can’t kill them with chemicals because this is an organic garden, so I just go out every day and look under allllll the leaves for stow aways. It takes about ten minutes and it’s worth every minute. Oh, right, the hail damage. Observe…

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I quickly harvested those and made my second batch of kale chips. Here’s a picture of the first batch:

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I’ll tell you the recipe, too, after I share I picture of my sad pumpkin plant.

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Those pumpkin leaves were beautiful, I was so proud of how the pumpkin is doing because it is in the ground, not the raised beds. Our soil is very clay textured and compacted, so it must be really fighting to dig in. The romaine was shredded, too, but it mattered less as long as the whole leaf was still present. A couple leaves did almost just melt away from the hail, though. It went on like that video for at least five minutes, because I was taking a video of the front yard for a minute, then I got distracted by the World Cup game, then I took that video above of the backyard and it was a minute or two long originally.

So that’s the story of how Mother Nature helped me make dinner by pre-shredding my romaine salad.

And now for the Kale Chips! This is a version of a recipe I found on this blog via Pinterest. I do it like this…

 

Kale Chips

Ingredients:

  • Kale – about two quarts worth of washed and dried kale with the middle stem removed and cut into chip-size pieces (they will shrink a little too)
  • 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbs oil – I have used melted coconut or olive oil, both are great but I think I like the olive oil a little more
  • Salt

Equipment:

  • 4-quart size bowl (or small bowl if you don’t have a big one – this is used to mix the oil and vinegar but also to toss the kale in the mixture if you want)
  • Knife, cutting board, washing/drying equipment to prep the kale
  • Dehydrator. I have an inexpensive Nesco dehydrator that makes perfect kale chips. You can also make them in the oven but I burn mine every time that way. Seriously, I have sat there and watched them bake before and I still burn them. The oven lies.
  • Storage. I can fill a half-gallon mason jar with a dehydrator full of kale (a few pieces don’t make it from the dehydrator to storage, though).

Directions:

  1. If you haven’t followed the directions in the ingredients already, wash and dry your kale, remove the stem in the middle (that’s the bitter part) and cut your kale into chip-size pieces. I like pieces that also fit into a half-gallon mason jar because that’s what I keep my chips in. I haven’t tried storing them in a paper bag but I imagine that would work too.
  2. Put ACV and liquid oil (melted coconut, olive oil, whatever you’re into) in a big bowl. I use a four quart stainless steel bowl because I like a lot a room to toss the kale in the oil/vinegar. You could also use a small bowl and rub the oil onto each piece individually. Either way you have to do a little rubbing because you want to make sure the oil/vinegar mixture thoroughly coats the kale pieces.
  3.  Fill up the dehydrator trays with oil/vinegar coated kale. They will shrink a little so you can pack them in tight but don’t overlap the pieces or they will stick together and not be crispy in those spots.
  4. Give each tray a little dusting of salt. Mr. Handsome likes Alder Smoked Seasalt. I recently read that Himalayan pink salt is the one you want because it contains all the minerals. ALL of them. Okay, not really all, but a lot.
  5. Close up the dehydrator, put it somewhere away but near an outlet so the sound won’t bother you and you can plug it in. Turn it on and wait a couple hours, three to four probably. You’ll know the chips are done when they’ve reached your desired crunchiness level. It’s okay to open the dehydrator and check. I do it and both me and my kale chips seem fine.
  6. Turn off the dehydrator and transfer the kale chips to storage, sampling them along the way, of course. Offer fresh kale chips to everyone in your family, even though they will probably refuse them again. Do tell them how yummy the chips are though!

I used to make my chips with just oil but then I found this ACV way and it really does help with the flavor. I find I can use less salt now that I’ve added the ACV. Experiment with your recipe and find your own favorite. I haven’t made these twice yet and I like them more and more every time!

Book Review: Radical Homemakers

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these! I have been reading since the last book review, I swear! Not as much as I’d like to, of course. Kiddo1 and I did have a reading contest last month. We raced each other – I read “The Book Thief” and he read “Divergent,” then we switched books. I finished “The Book Thief” first, but now he’s nearly done with the whole “Divergent” series and I haven’t even started the first book yet!

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My copy, which is quickly becoming worn!

In my defense, though, I’ve been distracted by homesteading-type books. This was the first one I read and let me tell you, if you need a motivator to start becoming a productive household, “Radical Homemakers” by Shannon Hayes is probably a good place to start.

I was reading this book when I started writing again last week. I’m sure its influences are in the articulation of my goal. Shannon makes a very compelling argument for homemaking. I’m sure her thesis has appeared in my posts about my goal, so I won’t go into the details of why she thinks homemaking is a critical art that should be cultivated.

The fascinating part of her argument, to me, comes in the evolution of human thought that she points out. Our society has gone from being very home-centered, when accomplishment of domestic tasks really did influence ones very survival, to the industrial revolution and the beginning of abandoning the home, the rise of convenience appliances and foods alongside the rise of “housewife syndrome” in the 60’s, the shunning of domestic tasks with the first wave of feminism, and on and on. It’s funny how one thing, like how Darwin described the roles of women and men in evolution, could so greatly alter how the vast majority of people view the sexes. She has some really great history lessons like these all through the book. I find them so interesting!

Shannon also shares profiles of a bunch of families she has interviewed as part of her research. I love reading real stories about others who have started to blaze a trail to homemaking. This book kind of reminded me of Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, with its second half full of birth stories. That book was very inspirational to me in pursing natural childbirth, and so I find “Radical Homemakers” to be very inspirational in pursing my new goal!

Apparently people have found this book to be controversial. That opinion could be prompted by the author’s disdain for corporate culture. It could be her opinions on feminism or maybe even her interpretation of history, But I found myself nodding along with just about everything in this book so I didn’t find it too controversial! I found myself wanting to be friends with Shannon Hayes, so I can learn everything she knows! She does address some of the controversy in this interview, which I also found extremely interesting!

This is a great book if you’re at all pondering issues of how we got to this modern life, or if you have any interest in homemaking. Next time I’ll review another of Shannon Hayes’s books, “Long Way on a Little.”

Disclaimers

Yesterday’s post laid down a whole lotta my opinions on some fairly heavy stuff: diet changes, health issues, parenting. I thought today would be a good day to step back and issue a few disclaimers. This will probably be a good reference page for me to link to when my posts get all opinionated about things (which I suppose is the very nature of a blog, right?). Anyway, here are some things to know:

  1. Everybody is different. If you’ve read my pregnancy posts on this blog you’ll know that I love to say that what works for me or my family may not work for you. The choices we make as individuals and as a family are the choices we feel are right for US. You made need something else. Hell, I know I need different things than my husband or my kids sometimes. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution to anything. Except for maybe drinking water… staying hydrated is good for everyone, right? If you think something that we’re doing isn’t right for you, don’t do it. I’m not here to say, this is what I think everyone should be doing and if you’re doing something else you’re wrong. On the contrary! I’m here to say, this is what I’m doing right now in an attempt to make my life and the lives of my family members better. If I feel like something is good for everyone, I’ll point it out, but if you pay attention I think you’ll see that’s pretty rare. I try to keep my mind open!
  2. What we know now is not what we knew then. With just about every new thing I learn I think, oh my damn, what have I been doing to my family all this time? All the time we didn’t know about GMOs, all the time we ate “convenience” foods, all the time we didn’t have family meals together or all the money we’ve wasted or all the needless products we bought. Sometimes I really want to beat myself up and punish myself for all these wrongs. But you know what? They weren’t wrongs. They weren’t wrong because they were the best things we knew how to do at the time. We didn’t know there was a better until we opened our minds to it. We can’t regret the things that we had no power over. Sure, you could say, well how come you didn’t become “aware” sooner or of course you should have known those frozen chicken nuggets were bad. Hindsight is 20/20, is it not? Mistakes are not recognized as such until they happen. Who says, oh I’m going to go make a giant mistake right now? No one, and especially not one who is genuinely just trying to get a child to eat something. We cannot change the past. All we can do is try to be better.
  3. Sharing information or even encouraging improvement is not judgement of others. I follow some breastfeeding and natural parenting pages on Facebook and it seems like every time an article comes out about the benefits of breastfeeding or the dangers of caesarian or tongue tie or whatever, there are always people who are commenting and basically saying, “Why are you trying to make me feel bad about what I did?” And they’re missing the point. The point isn’t to say, look how bad you screwed up, you should have done it this way! The point is, NOW we know better, so let’s educate people so we can do better next time. It sucks to find out after the fact, hell yes! Is it better to learn that there is a better way or is it better not to learn and therefore potentially make the same mistakes again? I think the former is better. I think it is better to learn. Learning is what I want to do now, and through this blog I will document it. And come up with words other than “better.”

Finally, I leave you with this image that one of my Facebook friends posted. It doesn’t have too much to do with the above, but I really liked it.

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PS – Today I updated the About page, the site header, and my list of blogroll links which now shows the blogs I actually try to keep up with and have provided me with inspiration. They’re like a backup of the bookmarks on my phone now!

Diet Changes Are Hard

A couple days ago I started this post about frustrations with food and family. It was kind of a difficult afternoon around here! I don’t remember what started it off, but somehow there were frustrations boiling to the surface about the changes in our diet that I’ve made this year, some specifics of which I’ve documented here.

I haven’t given much background on these diet changes, but my New Years’ resolution this year was to become a GMO-free house. That came from some article I read about finding correlations between Round-Up and food allergies, cases of ADD and ADHD, autism spectrum, and rises in infertility. I don’t have the original source, but the graphs showing the nearly 1-for-1 relationship between use of GMOs/Monsanto pesticides and these new human conditions are shocking. What are we putting into our children? What is it doing to them? I’m not saying I totally agree that GMOs are to blame for all these ills. Correlation does not equal causation. But when in doubt, I avoid.

In my quest to rid my pantry of GMOs, I stumbled upon a whole bunch of other bad shit about food. Even if food isn’t genetically modified, there are still lots of Round-Up pesticides that can be used on it. I don’t like those pictures of people wearing haz-mat suits and spraying chemicals on food. So now we eat organic fruits and veggies. Not just whenever possible, but always. If it isn’t available in organic, then we don’t get it. Period. Not only is this because organic food is less likely to have pesticides (I don’t believe anything is 100% free of any other thing) but organic food is also more nutrient-dense. If I have to fight to get the family to eat veggies, then at least the bites they do take should be full of nutrients. Full of them I say!

My final point about organic fruits and veggies is the social impact. By buying organic, I’m telling the market that pesticides and non-organic practices are not okay with me. I’m voting with my dollars and I’m supporting a farmer rather than a corporation. I don’t know who the farmer is yet (getting there!), and I’m sure that depending on where I get my food I’m still supporting a corporation, but at least there is one more person telling them that organic is the way to go. Okay, end organic rant.

Then I started reading about how foods affect our bodies and how food is our first line of defense against sickness. I want to print out one of those sayings about food is healthcare and hang it on my fridge as a motivator. I was interested in this because Kiddo1 has always had stomach problems. I’ll spare you the details, but it is not fun. We have done all kinds of things to help him, but nothing has worked. Changing our diet is the one thing we haven’t really tried too much that I think can really help. My son’s gut health is not good, and after reading about how some foods can affect our bodies, I think he needs some drastic changes in order to start feeling better.

Grain is difficult for some people to process. I hate jumping on the grain-blame-train, I really do. I love bread and pasta. I swore I would never give them up. I was raised in the Midwest, where corn and grain are king! I laughed at Atkins in the early 00’s and questioned why anyone would be dumb enough to give up grains. In this life of suffering, at least give us the pleasure of donuts, lasagna, and toast!

But then those grains went and fucked with my kid, and know my tune has changed.

He exhibits all the classic signs of having trouble with grains (not intolerance, but sensitivity – there is a huge difference). Again, I will spare you the details, but a quick Google search of grain sensitivity symptoms reads like an observatory journal of my son. Even if grains turn out not to be the culprit, I can’t look at this list of symptoms and ignore it. If eliminating grains could be the key to my son’s health, I have to try. I’ll try anything.

And that, dear blog, is where the struggles come in. Kiddo1 understands that he is not healthy, but he is not standing ready and willing to do something about it, especially when that something involves him giving up the comforts of bread. Also, Mr. Handsome and I have a delicate balancing act between getting him to eat the right things versus just getting him to eat, period! He does not have a strong appetite (my gut tells me this is a deeper symptom of the grain intolerance, and it is often listed as a symptom of grain sensitivity). Sometimes I can’t justify taking away bread when bread is all he’ll eat!

So there we are – feed him the “right things” and fight to get him to eat it OR just feed him something he’ll eat and avoid the fight. It’s a struggle that is on my mind all the time.

This is how I’m dealing (this, and WINE).

  • Offer the good stuff first. I know that 9 times out of 10 (or 10 times out of 10!) he’ll reject what I offer and want something else. But I offer and sometimes he takes it. I don’t give up. This has started to pay off if you can believe it. Details below.
  • Take the food to him. I don’t like this one, but I don’t know what else to do. This kid is 11 years old and I would like more than anything for him to just make his own damn food already! Not every meal, but a snack, breakfast, some lunches… these are not hard things to make. He is perfectly capable of making these meals BUT he’s not willing to make them with the things I want him to eat. Yet. In the meantime, I will bring things to him. And, now that he is getting used to some things, he’s making them for himself again. We’re also going to work on learning a few meals that he can cook himself. That is one of our summer goals. Eventually we will get back to the point where he’s making more of his food, but I feel like he needs a little hand-holding or a little guiding to get him through this transition. I know it sounds like babying, but in practice it is really me forcing him to eat what I want! So it’s messed up all around, really. But I find it easier to “force” him if he thinks he’s getting away with being lazy.
  • If When he doesn’t like the food I offer, he has to make something that he will eat and he has to actually eat it. And no one can decide they don’t like something until they taste it – even if it’s the millionth time it is served.
  • Stay positive about the changes. It’s really easy to say, nevermind, this is too hard. I have wanted to say it and give up several times! But as discouraged as I am by my son’s rejection, I’m motivated by him. He is my catalyst for change, he always has been. It is because I want him to be healthy that I started down this road in the first place. We have been “giving up” his whole life and that is changing. I tell Mr. Handsome – WE are the adults. We are the only force for change here. He will not change himself, and it should not be up to him to be the change! He’s a kid! We are the ones who need to take that burden for him. When he is ready, when we are ready, he can take on more responsibility, but we aren’t there yet.

Last night for dinner we had an amazing meal – pasture-based pork medallions with fingerling potatoes and caramelized onions alongside a romaine salad cut from the garden moments before serving. The potatoes were the “worst” thing on the table as far as nutrition goes! I cooked everything in my cast iron skillet with ghee made from grass-fed butter, otherwise no added dairy, no processed anything (the pork was the closest thing to processed, and only because it had to be butchered), no grains, no GMOs. A nearly perfect meal. So of course I knew Kiddo1 would reject it. BUT, I offered it first. I placed a medallion on his plate with some potatoes.

To my surprise, he ate the pork. To my utter shock and amazement he said he liked it! He said I could make it AGAIN! He ate the WHOLE THING!!! Not the potatoes or onions or salad, but whatever! I am clinging to my one success, no matter how small. It is really hard to get this kid to eat pork. It’s hard to get him to eat any meat but chicken, and even THAT is hard sometimes. (Side note: Part of my victory with the pork, I think, is that I finally learned how to cook pasture-based pork, which is different from conventional meat. More on that in another post; it will be a book review of “Long Way on a Little” by Shannon Hayes.)

Kiddo1 has also started eating a leaf of romaine with his sandwiches, which is the only thing keeping him in sandwiches right now. He tried some spelt flour tortillas and actually liked those, too, so I’m trying to encourage more wraps rather than sandwiches. He goes for it most of the time if you can believe it! More encouragement for me.

When I started this post a couple days ago, it was not on a good day. But since then there have been just enough small victories that I’ve managed to keep my head up. It is important to stay positive! If, after the frustrations a few days ago, I had relented, then I wouldn’t have had the victory last night. And it won’t be the only victory. Fueled by my love for my son and my desire to get him healthy, I will make it through the next disturbance about food and I will continue to cook 3 meals a day (even though it’s exhausting!) and offer him wholesome goodness at every meal. Someday it will be less of a struggle.

The HOW (and the when)

Okay, after a couple days of updates and a break for Father’s Day, I’m back to the goal stuff.

The What and Why have been documented, and we know Who is doing this (me and my family!) and Where (at home and in our community) – all that is left is the How.

How am I going to be more productive and consume less?

The answer is… I have no idea! I’m new at this. I guess I’ll be finding out as I go? Well, that’s not entirely true, I have some ideas. Have I mentioned toothpaste?

But really, though, how do I produce more than I consume? I think I should start by being mindful, and encouraging mindfulness in my family. By mindful I mean that I should start looking at everything like I’ve been looking at toothpaste. I want to ask questions – What is this? What’s in it? How are the ingredients made? Where does it come from? Who created this?

Of course, I have to figure out how to encourage these questions from my family without being annoying. I have been kind of annoying to them lately. I mentioned that I’ve started changing our diet already. Well, I did some things kind of fast. No more white bread or white pasta – when enriched flour foods were gone I replaced them with whole wheat or I banned them (still trying to keep the Little Debbie-like shit from coming in my house but that’s a separate fight, and at least one that I don’t have to have often). No more Jello (I make some using fresh juice and grass-fed gelatin now). I added lots of veggies – veggies at every meal when before we had them only a couple times a week. Way less pasta – once a week for dinner and that’s it (and now it is only half the dinner instead of the whole thing). And the biggest one (but honestly seemed the easiest to implement when it was all said and done) – no more sugary cereals AND cereal is now just a “lazy day” breakfast. We now eat home-cooked breakfasts at least five days a week or more. Kiddo1 had cereal this morning (first day of summer!) for the first time in weeks. Trader Joe’s O’s, plain, with raw milk. Oh yes, our milk went from convention to organic to raw pretty quickly.

That’s not the annoying part. I’ve been telling them why I switch things when they ask, and how much bad stuff is in some of the things we’ve been eating. I try not to lay it on thick, I really do, but sometimes I get away from myself! I have also not allowed them much of a transition. I am trying not to swap out the whole pantry at once, but I will change the bread they get overnight. One day it was white, the next is was wheat and no matter how much they protested I did not go back. They’re actually lucky on this one – I’m still buying bread but I would like to do away with it all together. More on this later; it’s more complex than it sounds.

So I am not shy to tell them what they’ve been eating sucks and I’m not slow to take it away. I’m a “yank the band-aid off while they’re distracted” kind of nurse I guess.

I digress! Mindfulness! That’s all I’m trying to get at here. I need better ways to encourage mindfulness in my family, and I’m not sure what those are yet, but I know being more aware of what we’re eating and what we’re buying is going to be helpful.

Step 2… I also want to read whatever I can. Reading books and articles about what I’m doing helps. Reading will be a way for me to broaden my scope and skills. I’ve read a couple homemaking-related books since I started writing again last week (I’ve been sick, lots of time to lay around and read) and I’ll write reviews of those soon. I want to research homemaking, the art of domesticity, etc. I want to learn all those things our grandmothers knew – how to sew, how to clean, how to use all parts of a cow, how to raise chickens and garden year-round, etc.

Step 3… Community (this is the hardest one for me!). I need to get out of my house and find other people who feel the same way. I’d love to take a gardening class or find a mentor that will help me learn. I want to meet a local farmer that I can buy meat from today but maybe trade for meat when I have something of value. I want to meet folks who tinker with cars and would do anything for a few jars of the jam I make every year.

I’m sure there are more steps. Learn to try things without fear of failure. Find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Meditate. Turn off the TV more, put down my phone more. Talk about my goal with others. Write about my goal 2 or 3 or 5 or whatever times a week.

I think I really will be find out how to do this as I go. I’ll be sure to write it down though.

 

Oh wait! The When! I left out one question – when. I’ve actually been thinking about this one a lot this week.

Obviously I’m starting now, or I’ve already started I guess, but when am I done? Better yet, because I know I’ll never be “done,” when is my target to have the production-to-consumption scale emphatically tilted to producing?

I’ve been thinking about 9 years, mostly because of my blog’s namesake. Well I called this blog 9 years later because I started it to document my second pregnancy, which occurred 9 years after my first pregnancy. So, you know, gotta follow that up with something equally epic (which is impossible, I know, as nothing is as grand as having a child). Plus, this is, like, a really big goal. I’m talking Make. All. My. Shit. (Hahahaha – so I’m proofreading and just now realize how funny that last sentence sounds. So I can’t remove it.)

9 years from now I want to have the skills that will enable my family and me to be free. Free to live anywhere we want – stay in our current house and build on, or maybe move to a farm, move to another country if we felt like it. I want to be free to decide whether or not I will continue with conventional employment. Free to make decisions about our future that are not hindered by questions like where will our food come from and where will we buy X, because those things won’t be major players in the decisions any more.

I know it sounds like a lot. I know it is a really lofty goal. I know it could fall apart at any moment! There will be successes, there will be failures. I’ll probably give up from time to time, but that’s why the blog is here! Oh dear blog, please keep me motivated by making me accountable. I can’t promise to post my progress and not follow through, right? We’ll see.

Mother Mary and the Farmer 5000, by Kiddo1

Mr. Handsome found this in Kiddo1’s backpack. They were studying Tall Tales at school, and he wrote one about me! Here it is, preserved on the blog. I did replace my real name with my blog name. Otherwise, all spelling, punctuation, and formatting were copied exactly as written by Kiddo1. Enjoy!

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Mother Mary is a very nice and delightful person. She grows food at her farm and sells them at the farmers market. Every day is the same, her picking and watering plants and taking them to the farmers market, then going back home. But today, it was different. When she got to the farmers market, she saw a huge grey box. She walked over to it. When she arrived, she was in a group of farmers. They were all muttering about this weird grey box. A small man stepped forward. “This, is the Farmer 5000,” he said, “and I am the owner and creator, Bob,” Bob finished.

“What does this Farmer 500 do?” someone asked. “Well, it farms and it can farm better than all of you… COMBINED!” he yelled. They all gasped and looked at Mother Mary. She stepped forward. “Not to be offensive, but no one is a better farmer than me!” Mother Mary said. “Then I challenge you to a grow off!” Bob said.

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Cover Art by Kiddo1

The next day it started. The ref gave them pumpkin, watermelon, and strawberry seeds. The ref blew the whistle and off they went. They planted, they watered, Mother Mary added her homemade sauce stuff. Then they went to sleep.

The next morning they awoke to find that all of their plants have sprouted! And their ripe and huge! The ref came over and was amazed! He got his measuring tape and measured.

Mother Mary’s strawberries were 3 inches tall! Her pumpkins were 5 feet tall! And her watermelon were 2 feet! Farmer 5000’s strawberries were 2.5 inches tall! It’s pumpkins were 6 feet tall! And its watermelon were 2 feet tall! The Farmer 5000 won!

Now it was time for the taste test. The people of the town were the testers. Mother Mary’s strawberries were WAY better. Her pumpkin pie was AMAZING! And her watermelons were AWESOME! Mother Mary wins the grow off!!

And that’s how the rest of Mother Mary’s life went. People challenged her every week. She won every week. And if you every went out to country side where she lived, you’ll notice a very, VERY nice green patch of grass. That’s where she lived.

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HE IS LISTENING TO ME!!!!

Updated to add a penmanship sample:  photo 20140616_102128-1_zpsqfsomvg1.jpg