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Goal Update – New Phases

There have been so many things on my mind lately it has been hard to post! As soon as I settle on one topic I’m distracted by another.

I deal with distraction by making lists, so I’ve decided to update my Goal Phases page (tab at the top of this screen). I started the page to try to organize all the things I want to learn as part of my self-sustaining goal.

Now the list on the page is helping me to focus on just a few areas at a time. Lately I’ve been thinking about all the things I want to learn and I’ve gotten a little overwhelmed! But if I step back and recall that I’ve set a nine-year timeline, then I can break up my time into segments and feel a little more relaxed.

I’ve realized that this whole year I’ve spent most of my time learning about foods that the best for my family’s health and how to cook those foods. So that is my official focus for 2014… which I do realize is almost over. But I’ve learned so much about food this year so it’s okay that I’m just now applying the label. I’ve been focusing on this goal already without even realizing it!

So by the end of this year, just 6 or 7 weeks away, I hope to know enough about food that I can cook whatever we manage to bring home without too much stress. I’ve learned to cook a lot of things this year: I’ve learned the difference between cooking convensional beef vs grass-fed, I’ve learned how to cook a variety of winter squash (never had cooked a squash before this year!), I’ve learned how to chop an onion, how to properly hold a chef’s knife, substitutes for wheat flour and eggs, how to use a pressure cooker, how to cook in cast iron, how to lacto ferment vegetables, and way more than I ever thought I’d need to learn!

Cooking isn’t just proper use of ingredients and equipment. It’s also meal planning and shopping. So by the end of the year I’d like to have my planning and shopping systems in place well enough that I don’t have to think about them as much as I do now. Right now I spend about two hours planning meals and snacks for the week. I can’ keep spending that much time on it so I keep tweaking my planning system. I’m still using my meal planning template – that is actually working really well for me still. Coming up with ideas for what to eat is always the most difficult, so I’m working on a sort of “map” to give me fresh ideas each week. It has themed days, lists of healthy foods, and other things to trigger my brain and make planning fast. When it is more complete I promise to share it!

We spend a good amount of time on shopping for foods, too. We spend so much time partly because my planning isn’t 100% yet so every few days I realize we’re out of something and we have to go replenish supplies. I’m getting really close to only shopping once a week, but not quite there yet.

Part of planning better shopping is having a really good handle on what we actually use each week/month. So I’m working on tracking our consumption habits so I can better prepare for how much of something we’ll need to get. It’d be so much better to get say… granola only once a month and get it at a discount because we ordered five pounds.

So lots of cooking and food-related work still to do this year! But I feel like we’ve come a long way! We are WAY less reliant on standard consumer fare in order to get ourselves fed and that really is the goal here isn’t it! As long as we have ingredients and some tools, we can make ourselves a good dinner.

Once the year is over though, it’s not like I’ve totally mastered cooking. Like many life skills it requires lots of practice and a thirst for knowledge in order to keep skills sharp. So I’ll still be reading cookbooks and perusing the internet for cooking smarts in 2015 and beyond. But, I’ll try to make it less of an obsession.

In 2015 I’ll attempt to move on to a new obsession, which is to grow a lot more of the food we eat. We had a decent first year of gardening in 2014, but we need to step it up a lot in order to call ourselves self-sufficient.

For the future phases beyond next year, see the new page at the top of this screen. I will update it often!

Living in a Small House

We are a family of four living in less than a thousand square feet (960 square feet, to be exact). We have three bedrooms, one bathroom, a one-car garage and a fifth of an acre lot. It’s been a full year that we’ve been living here so I thought it’s a appropriate time to reflect on how it is working out for us.

In short, I love living in this small house. Here’s a list of all the reasons why small is great for us:

  • It’s easier to keep ourselves from owning too much stuff. Clutter becomes apparent quickly so we’ve learned to let go of things a little easier and go through our possessions more often. Clutter simply cannot hide because there’s no where for it to go but right in front of us!
  • You can carry on a conversation with someone and still walk around the house putting things away, fetching things, getting stuff done, etc.
  • No one gets “lost:” Baby2 can wander around between rooms and we never feel like we’ve lost track of her. It’s easy to hear if she’s getting in trouble (or too quiet – also a sign of trouble!). Our “pre-teen” Kiddo1 can’t get himself too isolated, either. Having one main “hang out” space forces us to see each other on a regular basis which is really nice! And if we must spend some time alone, there’s always our bedrooms or the big backyard.
  • If you do keep forgetting things in another room, you don’t have to walk far to keep retrieving them.
  • Low utility bills!
  • Our mortgage is affordable, even on one income, and our taxes are the lowest of anyone we’ve polled.
  • Low remodeling project costs. I want a nice new bathroom floor, preferably hex or penny tile in a fun pattern. That tile work can be expensive, but I only have maybe 30 square feet of floor in my bathroom so we can afford a nicer material than we might normally choose.
  • Cleaning doesn’t suck – only one toilet to scrub, only 12 square feet of counters to wipe down, only one garage stall to organize, etc.
  • Maintenance costs are super low. We recently thought we’d have to replace our plumbing drain pipes (dodged a bullet on that one), but even if we had the main drain pipe is only 30 feet long and it’s mostly one long section (with only one turn into the main sewer line), which makes the plumber’s job easier, which makes it faster, which makes it cheaper.
  • We don’t need to buy a bunch of furniture to fill up the rooms. We don’t need a bunch of decor items either.
  • We spend more time outside than we normally would since the yard functions as a second living room most of the year.
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Our little house

Of course it is not perfect. There are a few “cons” to living in a small house:

  • Not a lot of privacy. The most private room in the house is probably Kiddo1’s bedroom because it is at the end of the hall and only shares walls with the bathroom and the master closet. I like that he has the most privacy – he’s probably the one that needs it most. Teenagers do need to get away from their families sometimes. Adults do too, of course, but I know when I was a teenager a little alone time kept me sane enough to handle family time too.
  • No room to grow in the existing house. If our family ever got bigger (another dog, relatives that wanted to stay with us, perhaps even a third child) we wouldn’t be able to give them a space of their own. Of course we haven’t started room sharing yet and that could be a possibility if we really needed it. And we do have the yard space if we wanted to add another room to the house!

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Here are other ways we “make it work,” although I dislike that term. I don’t think we’re “making” anything work, I think it just works for us!

  • Our yard makes up for a lot of the indoor space we don’t have. Extra room for the occasional party, friends over, space to hang out, all that can happen in the yard most of the year. And we can grow so much food in our yard! Just in one little corner we’ve got 100 square feet of raised beds and more than enough room to double or triple that without cutting into the kids’ play space or our patio. We bought this house because of the yard and we are not regretting that decision!
  • We are considerate of our time in the bathroom. We ask others if they need to use the bathroom before we shower. We don’t “hide” in the bathroom (you know what I mean if you’ve done it!). We don’t all get ready at the same time of day so we don’t have to fight over someone taking too much time. I would love just one more toilet, a half bathroom, but most of the time we really don’t need it. Plus we only have one toilet to clean! Did I mention that yet?
  • We have flexible furniture. We have a dining room table that has a folding table top so it can be a small table when we’re not using it and when it’s dinner time we expand the table top so we have plenty of room for plates and serving dishes. We have an ottoman that also functions as a toy chest so it is both sitting furniture and storage furniture.
  • We only have one car so having a one-car garage is no problem. We love having one car. It saves money on insurance, gas, and maintenance. We had two cars at one point (Mr. Handsome’s parents gave us one) but it truly was more hassle than it was worth. In our 12 years together, Mr. Handsome and I have only had two cars for maybe two of those years. It works out really well for us because I work from home and Kiddo1’s school is just a mile away.

For us, small house living really is the way to go!

Eliminating Kitchen/Cleaning Paper

Yesterday I wrote all about my very first tie dye experience. I was inspired to tie dye because I really wanted to switch to cloth napkins, but I didn’t want some boring white ones. We have a blue kitchen and I saw some beautiful shibori on Pinterest, so I put all those thoughts together and I got the need to indigo dye some napkins!

This was a pretty cheap project, just $12 or so for the indigo and another $10 for a bundle of cloth napkins. Compare that to spending $5 or more every couple months on a bundle of paper towels and we’ll recoup our cost and start to save money in just a few short months. These cloth napkins should last us a lot longer than that!

We keep four napkins – one for each of us – hung up on hooks in the dining room for easy access. There are 12 napkins so we keep a napkin hung up between meals until it is in need of a washing. That way we aren’t over-washing them but we aren’t letting them get super gross either! I can only handle so much reusing, knowwhatImean?

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Ready for meal time!

So far the system is working out really well. We’ve stopped handing out paper towels before meals and have started tossing the cloth across the table.

It just feels nicer to use cloth. The napkins are bigger, they cover more of my lap while I eat. I feel more… refined? Even though they are hippie fun tie dye! I super highly recommend getting some. Even if they’re not hippie fun tie dye.

We have also changed up our kitchen cleaning routine a bit. I was pretty attached to cleaning wipes. You know the ones – little disposable baby-wipe like clothes that come pre-wet with a cleaning agent. I got the Seventh Generation ones and told myself, it’s cool, you’re being good to the Earth because of the brand. But I knew I was telling myself a fib. Just because they’re a little bit better than the toxic bleach ones doesn’t mean they’re perfect! I sought out a new system.

The thing about wipes is they’re so easy! When mess happens, just open the container and wipe away! Toss in the garbage like no mess ever happened. How could that ease possibly be replicated in something reusable?

Then I found my answer. Mr. Handsome was clearing out his old undershirts – the ones with holes, stains, etc. I had struck cheap cotton gold! After I procrastinated and finished up my “I swear this is the last container” of wipes (like three “last” containers), I triumphantly pulled out those t-shirts from the box I stashed them in and cut them up into squares about the size of those wipes I love. I saved two of the Seventh Generation containers and put my dry cloths in there for easy keeping. Those containers are great because they have a snap lid and they’re easy to carry all over the house.

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T-shirt rags in a jar

The only hurdle left was… how to I get the wet cleaning stuff into my cloth wipes? And just what is that cleaning stuff made of, anyway? I have no idea. And I don’t have time to research what Seventh Generation really uses (because you know they don’t put every ingredient on the packaging). So I went with a great natural, all-purpose cleaner: vinegar. I have a little spray bottle and I use it combine and hold about one part water and one part orange-infused vinegar. Now I spray down the counters, kitchen table, and stove top, wipe it all down with one or two of my rags and put the rags in the wash for next time. I have a ton of rags – they totally fill up my two containers (one for the bathroom and one for the kitchen).

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Infused vinegar: just put orange or lemon peels in a jar, fill with vinegar to cover the peels and wait a couple weeks. Replace the vinegar as you use it to keep it going for a couple months!

I literally have not missed the pre-soaked disposable wipes at all. If there’s a small mess it is no problem to pull out a t-shirt wipe and either use it dry or spray a bit of vinegar – either directly on the mess or on the wipe. If a wipe is super, duper soiled, I have the option of tossing it out because I have so many and a virtually (to me) endless supply of more wipes as my husband clears out his t-shirts every year or so. I never go through the whole container of wipes, no matter how messy things are.

One last thing we’ve done to reduce our paper use is to get some microfiber towels for cleaning. I have always used newspaper to wash my windows. It is the only lint-free way, right? Nope! There’s the magic of microfiber!

I got a set of 36 cloths in three colors. The colors help me organize by use. Here they are all organized and pretty in my linen closet:

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Their organized look makes me happy to open the linen closet!

I need to start using them in the kitchen to do things like polish the stainless steel appliances and faucet, but I haven’t gotten around to that chore yet. So far I’ve just used them on windows and mirrors and they’re fantastic! A bit of lint came off in my first couple uses but now they’re just about lint-free. I can use them on windows and mirrors with just water and they do a great job! For a little deeper clean, though, I use this awesome diy window cleaner I found on Crunchy Betty. See the site for the specific recipe, but it is vinegar, rubbing alcohol, water, and, get this – cornstarch! I thought the cornstarch would be all streaky but it is actually the opposite! My windows and mirrors have NEVER been more clean!

*Update/side note: I’ve learned that microfiber is actually made with polyester and other petrochemicals, so it isn’t very Earth-friendly.  However, they clean with only water (no harsh chemicals) and can be reused for years. Since I already have mine I’m going to use them for as long as I can. By then hopefully there will be something amazing and not crude oil-based.

So… the big question… are the paper towels totally gone?? Well… no. I still can’t get away from using them for some things. Killing an errant ant is at the top of my list at present. It is ant season and we get one or two on the counters some days. Also cleaning the very sticky fingers of the children… I haven’t gotten myself to use the t-shirt wipes on them yet but I totally should! With a little water they are the perfect face wipe – softer than paper towels I imagine. But the biggest reason I keep them around is grease. When we have a bit of bacon grease left in the bottom of a jar, the best way we’ve found to get it out is wiping it out with a paper towel. I don’t think that much grease is good for my washing machine… I have yet to find a full replacement for those dang towels. BUT we are using a less towels, and that’s less waste, less cost, less environmental impact from the production and distribution of the product. So still something to feel good about. We will find a way to eliminate them entirely someday. I’m open to suggestions!

“Shibori” Indigo Tie Dye Fun (Updated to add more photos!)

Can you believe this crazy hippie had never tie dyed something until just recently?! I know, it’s strange. Now that I have done it I want to dye ALL THE THINGS. It’s so much fun and so easy! Just requires the smallest amount of prep.

What I did isn’t technically shibori because that actually involves threading your fabric in some way before dying. I just tied mine up in a bunch of funky shapes. Some ties I found by looking at Pinterest and Google, some I just kind of put together as I went. They all turned out pretty cool, but I definitely have some things I’ll do differently next time.

I ordered an indigo dye kit off Amazon (I’m trying to limit my Amazon purchases for a variety of reasons, but damn they are so convenient).  It makes 4 gallons of dye which they say is enough for 15 shirts, but I dyed 12 cloth napkins, a scarf, a t-shirt and a dress and I STILL have like 3.5 gallons leftover. Now I don’t know what to do with the leftovers… Luckily it is natural, plant-based dye so I guess I can just dump it out? Clearly, more research is needed.

The kit came with just about everything I needed, except the 5-gallon bucket and a stirring stick. I filled up the bucket with 4 gallons of water and tossed in the white powder packets and concentrated indigo. Then it was time to tie up my fabric!

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All tied up and ready to go

Perhaps I will try a true shibori next time and use some thread to bind my fabrics. I was intimidated enough by just getting some folds done! But it’s one of those things that looks kind of difficult but once you do it, it’s fun.

Hot tip #1: I tied up my fabric really tight which ended up giving me a lot of white space in my results. The dye just couldn’t penetrate all the way into the folds, which is good! But next time I think I’ll tie things a little looser so I have more blue.

After everything got all tied up, I soaked the little bundles in water. I used our kiddie pool – it was the perfect size for pre-soaking and rinsing. Plus it’s already blue so now it doesn’t look totally destroyed.

Hot tip #2: Dunk many, many times! I soaked my bundles in the dye for at least 30-60 seconds per “dunking” and repeated that at least once, but I wish I would have dunked some pieces several more times. Especially considering I had so much dye left over! But once you untie you can’t really go back. So that’s something I’ll remember for next time. Still, though, they look super dark all bundled up!

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Dyed and oxidized

When the bundles come out of the dye, they are actually a yellow-green color. The dye needs to oxidize in order to turn blue. It’s fun to see your yellow-green bundles turn to blue before your eyes. I had to make sure to rotate the pieces on my towel a bit so that all the bits of dye would oxidize. Of course this will happen eventually no matter what you do, but I thought it would be good to get all oxidized before I started any rinsing.

The bundles sat in the shade on my towel for 30 minutes or so, then I piled them all in my kiddie pool again and gave them a good rinsing, until the water coming off the bundles was clear. This makes sure that the dye doesn’t bleed onto everything else when washed.

Then I hung my pieces up to dry and walked away for awhile. I love things that include a “set it and forget it” step! Cause I’m super good at forgetting.

Next post I’ll write about WHY I wanted to tie dye in the first place, because I think it’s interesting! I’ll leave you with photos of a few of the napkins and the dress that I dyed…

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A little too much white space on this one, but I like the pattern at the corners!

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From rocks tied with rubber bands

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I don’t know how I got the subway tile pattern, but I think it is my favorite!

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This one was wrapped around a pole and tied with rubber bands

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I tie-dyed a dress! And took a selfie to boot. Yay for trying new things!

Update! A couple more photos I forgot!

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Taken right out of the drawer so it has fresh fold wrinkles!

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Actually, this one might be my favorite!

Garden Update: Hail Recovery and Pest Control

More on the adventures in our garden! Things have been recovering nicely since the wicked hail storm a couple weeks ago.

Seeds that I had planted before the storm are sprouting nicely. These pictures I took are awful but I’m out of light now! Anyway, lots of alfalfa:

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Looks ready to eat!

Onions:

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They’re tiny but they’re there!

Carrots:

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Not as many seeds survived, but carrots do germinate slowly so maybe we’ll get more?

The tomatoes are flowering and there are tons of little green tomatoes coming out! I see the speckled trucks, though, and I wonder if they’re lacking nutrients. Last week I sprinkled crushed egg shells into the soil all around the garden (although I’ve read that it takes a really long time – a season? – for the shells to get much calcium into the soil) and today I gave them some epsom salts. Hopefully that will nutrient them up.

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Future tomato sauce

The broccoli is also flowering, unfortunately. We’ve had a couple hot days and of course I planted it too late in the season so it is bolting. I want some of it to bolt because I really want to get into seed saving… but I’m not sure if I’m ready! I need to do more research on it but when is there time? I’m trying to do too much right now as it is!

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Purple broccoli!

Other things going on in the garden…. the green caterpillars who were eating my kale, romaine, and chard that I wrote about last time haven’t been spotted in awhile. Although today I was watering the chard and spotted a dead white moth. It didn’t look like it was green caterpillar because I didn’t see a green body, but it still freaked me out a little. I haven’t been as diligent with my daily inspections for bugs, so I need to stop rushing through the morning garden chores!

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So pretty!

We’ve had other bugs – red shouldered or box elder bugs. Apparently they are harmless but they love to annoy us when we’re outside. I have looked for ways to move them along without killing them, but I didn’t have much luck. Mr. Handsome just got a play structure for the kiddos, which the bugs seem to love, so we really don’t have much choice but to spray these guys out of our yard.

Of course I don’t want to use chemicals, though, because we use the yard a lot! I found a solution – water and a bit of dish soap (I use Seventh Generation right now, but I thought about using Castille soap). Yesterday I sprayed their favorite spots a few times throughout the day, and today their numbers are vastly reduced. Apparently these guys are suseptable to drowning, so you have to get them pretty wet. If the water doesn’t kill them, the soap will deteriorate their exoskeleton and get them eventually. Poor little guys. Just move out of my yard!

Baby2 enjoyed helping in the garden last night while I pulled weeds and took pictures. Such a good helper!

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My helper

Traveling with Clean Food, Part 2: Planning

This part has really stressed me out! It is pretty much why I haven’t posted in over a week. This, and the holiday weekend, a little extra work stuff going on, and generally trying to prepare for this vacation. Preparing for a road trip is more stressful than I thought! It isn’t like a “stationary” vacation where you’re in the same place for several days/nights and can be kind of flexible with what you do. No, we’ll be on the road every day and in a new place each night, so I have to think about where we’re going to stay each day, the route we’ll take, what we want to see and how much time we want to spend on the road, making sure we’re traveling at the right time of day, making sure everyone gets showers and clothes washed consistently, and, of course, the food.

Oh, the food! It is hard enough to plan a weekly menu for the family and we aren’t on the road every day! I hardly feel I’m qualified to give any advice whatsoever on this subject, but this blog isn’t advice it’s documentation, so here we go…

I started with pre-planning: knowing we’ll have opportunity to cook food while we’re at a camping spot or even hanging out at a friend’s house, wanting to bring lots of snacks to keep us from stopping for junk food, knowing I need to look for spots along the way to replenish supplies and looking out for good restaurants.

Cooking Our Own Food

The biggest challenge with this one came when I realized that I cannot take 9 days’ worth of meat with me in a cooler and expect it to stay “good” the whole time. Apparently this is an unrealistic expectation. So, I have planned on fresh, home-brought food lasting about three days, meat included. Of course that is stopping for fresh ice every day and being careful about how we pack the cooler, so longer-term storage is separate from short-term stuff like snacks (and we must keep meats separate from fresh veggies and dairy!).

As far as what we’ll cook, we have a few camping favorites: hot dogs and sausages cooked over campfire, bacon and eggs in the cast iron, s’mores, beef stew in the cast iron, etc. I’m making our bacon ahead of time, and the stew – advanced prep saves many a headache at the campsite! I don’t want to be slaving over a meal on vacation – I either want to  be actively participating in cooking with everyone (such as roasting dogs over the fire) or have food cooking while we’re setting up camp or playing a game.

When we aren’t camping, we’re probably staying with friends. We only have two hotel stays in eight nights! So when we’re with friends we’ll either be going out or they’ll be cooking for us. I’m really excited to see what they’ll cook… and to see if we’ll all try it (yes, myself included). I plan on bringing some food gifts for each of our hosts; I’d feel like I’m totally mooching otherwise. I thought about bringing some meat for our hosts from our freezer, but then I thought that might be weird… I’m settling for wine/beer, fresh herbs (that I’ll pick up at markets along the way) and any other cool things we find along the way (we’re making lots of interesting stops).

Storing Food

Cold stuff – coolers. We have three coolers and we’ll for sure use them all. One will be our all-purpose: condiments (kept in a small box that can be quickly removed at meals), cold snack storage, eggs, dairy, veggies. The second is for meat. We aren’t bringing any raw meat but I don’t want to take risks. Plus the meat has to be stored long-term so this way the number of times we need to open it will be really limited. The third cooler is for the day’s snacks and probably lunch. The purpose of the third cooler is to, again, limit the opening of the coolers that need to store cold food longer. We’ve never camped more than two nights, so I have no idea how this will work, but we’re giving it a shot!

Dry stuff – I’m using a Rubbermaid tub for dry storage. I am bringing some snack items that should last the trip (if we don’t eat them first) like granola, homemade kale chips, dehydrated banana chips, raisins, peanuts (Mr. Handsome loves them), and these blue corn tortillas we’ve been enjoying lately.

Not edible but food-related are supplies, like spatulas, tongs, utensils, etc. I’m storing just about everything, except for the cast iron dutch oven, in one of those 3-drawer plastic containers. We’re also going to try to store our clothes this way.

Getting More Food

After three days, we’re going to need to replenish supplies! It has taken us awhile to find all the places around our home that we can buy farm-fresh products, so how are we supposed to find good food on the go? This thought has stressed me out, too! But, I found some cool tools. My favorite is a website called Local Harvest (www.localharvest.org). It lists places near a location you specify such as farms with CSAs and produce stands, local farmers markets and even (sometimes) local grocery stores. I found a store in Jackson, WY that I am excited to try (it’s Jackson Whole Grocer).

I’ve taken the presence of even Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for granted because almost all the cities we’re traveling to on our route do not have these stores. I thought these were going to be my back-ups, but they aren’t. Instead, I’m just planning carefully. Tomorrow (Monday) I’ll call the three farms I’d like to visit to make sure the hours listed on Local Harvest are still valid. I have also visited the websites for a couple farmers markets to make sure they’re still going on. I know going to a farmers market is still a gamble – there could be little selection both in terms or variety and quantity, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. In a couple towns I have found a “back up” natural grocery so I think we’ll be okay.

If farms and local grocers fail me, there’s always a normal supermarket. We may not find everything I want us to (and a whole bunch of stuff I don’t want!) but we won’t starve. And THAT is what I need to keep in mind when I inevitably freak out about something with food. My goal for this trip is to stay calm and enjoy my family! Anyway, I’m getting side-tracked. Moving on.

Good Restaurants

Because nobody wants to cook everything or force others to cook for them against their will (I won’t make my friends cook if they’d rather go out!), there are restaurants. We are eating at some. On Day 2 we’ll be stopping for lunch in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, hopefully at a spot called Dockside which I read has an amazing view of the beautiful lake. I would like to think that even though I am asking for relatively strict diet changes, I can be flexible when it comes to things like eating out. I have a couple meals out planned, but if we’re hosted by a family I don’t make plans, I just follow their lead! Again, super excited to see what that brings, especially with friends we haven’t seen in awhile!

Okay, so coming back to plans on paper. I meal plan every week and this trip has been no exception. I have made my menu template just like I always do. This time I made two weeks worth of sheets since we’ll be gone for 9 days and they spread over two weeks (I mean, I still need to plan for what we’re eating before we leave and after we get back!*). I have added a couple things, like equipment needed for camping meals and notes about when to pack the cooler, stop for ice, stop for supplies, etc. But overall it is exactly the same!

I have the pages all ready and they are helping me figure out what to pack and what to prepare tomorrow, which is my great pre-cooking day. I’m making a bunch of bacon, the beef stew, lunch for our first day on the road and some snacks. Want the full list?

Snacks – dry

  • Kale chips (I bought a couple bunches at the farmers market and harvested just about everything I could from the garden. I have about three gallons of mason jars full of chips!)
  • Dehydrated banana chips (small batch though)
  • Peanuts and almonds (not paleo, but we aren’t strict)
  • Granola (Bob’s Red Mill Apple Blueberry)
  • Granola Bars (We still use Quaker Chewy which I know are totally processed and sugar but we haven’t had time to get comfy with a diy recipe yet so here we are)
  • Peanut butter
  • Bananas (first day only I think)

Snacks – cold

  • Cheese
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Pitas and Tortillas (also for meals)
  • Jam
  • Grapes
  • Muffins and Cookies – frozen, will transfer to dry storage after a few days (if not gone by then, of course)

Breakfast foods (camping breakfast needed on days two, day five, and day eight)

  • Of course I’m bringing lemons and my tea kettle for morning lemon water, and tea
  • Pre-made bacon (day two only)
  • Eggs (day two only unless we can find some at the market on day four)
  • Fruit – bananas, apples, grapes, melon
  • Granola
  • Oatmeal (we’ve got boiling water and bowls!)
  • No toast this time around!

Lunch foods (road lunch on days one, three, four, five, seven, eight, nine – so, like, almost every day; otherwise, we’ll eat out) – lunch seems to be the hardest meal for me to break out of the “grain” mold!

  • Wraps: ham lunch meat or leftover meat from dinner, lettuce, cheese, maybe a salad dressing if you’re Mr. Handsome. (I’ll make these in advance for a picnic on day 1, maybe even with some pre-cooked bacon that I didn’t need!)
  • Pita PB&J: Kiddo1 loves these, thank goodness. He’d probably eat them five times a day, though.
  • Leftovers: we’ll have leftover beef stew for lunch in Yellowstone on day five.
  • Hopefully farm fresh foods on day seven in Idaho. Lunch always goes best with something fresh! Carrots, apples, salad, sweet peas, etc.

Dinner foods (camping days one, four, seven; friends days two, three, six; out/hotel/clean out cooler days five and eight)

  • Sausages and hot dogs over campfire on day one (Kiddo1 loves this interactive camping meal), with salad still fresh from our garden.
  • Beef stew in cast iron Dutch Oven over propane grill at campsite on day four.
  • OMG totally winging it on day seven because I have no idea what food we’ll find by then (holy food gods let us find some decent meat!)
  • Friends: leaving it up to them (if all else fails we’ll find a place on Yelp!)
  • The clean out cooler days are self-explanatory, right? It’s a day to use leftovers and, if there aren’t any, indulge in local cuisine.

I think that just about covers it! I’d love to write about packing tomorrow, assuming I’m not too tired I will do it! Otherwise I’m off for vacation starting now!

* A note for when we get back: I don’t want to come home on the night of day 9 and have to run to the store to get food. I also don’t want to succumb to eating out. I’m thinking of making a freezer meal, but then I’d have to defrost it for awhile when we get home – we can’t really eat right away. I haven’t found the perfect solution to this yet… but I keep looking!

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.

 photo Kitchen101-Seasonal-Vegetables1_zpsc1d2fd0b.jpg

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!

 

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…

 photo 2014-06-20 22.02.18_zpse9mu1bry.jpg

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

 photo IMG_20140608_145552_zpsq7jlbhwn.jpg

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

 photo 2014-06-20 22.06.46_zpsrguycdvm.jpg

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!