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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!

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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!

Redecorating Adventures

Another home project down! Sneaking this one in before vacation. Part of me is really, really happy about this project and another part is disappointed. I’ll break it down: I love the paint, love the wall stuffs rearranging and love that we finished (the bulk of) it before vacation. I’m disappointed that I rushed a bit (therefore didn’t stick to my “non-consumer” values) and bought some crappy rush materials. But did I mention the bathroom is beautiful and (99%) functional for us both right before and upon return from our vacation? Cause that really is the best part.

Our sad little bathroom has been in need of an update. It’s our only bathroom and it was so boring – all white with no excitement. The previous owner had updated this bathroom in 2001 (we have the receipts – she kept great records!) and added a great vanity and the cute white wall cabinet, but the room needs our own personality added to it. Plus it lacks a bit of function. The vanity is great for storing toilet paper and small appliances, but the wall cabinets, while cute, don’t give us tall enough shelves for what we need.

Here are some before pictures of our tiny white bathroom:

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Before

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Before!

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Before

We got colorful towels when we moved in to try to give something interesting to the room, but this weekend I finally reached my breaking point and decided it was time to get it a makeover. Redecorating presents an unique set of challenges now that I’m trying to reduce consumption. When it comes to supplies needed and accessories wanted to finish the room, I can’t just go out and get everything I want if I’m going to stay true to my new mantra. But this bathroom really needed new paint and something to make it feel more functional in the small space. There’s got to be a happy medium between consumption and doing nothing!

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Still needs a little “styling” but at least it is functional!

There is a happy medium and I think it is just called being more resourceful. Here’s how I approached all the things I needed in order to pull off this “new” room:

    • Wall Paint: Did you know you can remix paint? You can take paint back to the store and have them mix it into another color for you! There are limitations, though. I didn’t know about the limits before this project, so I didn’t get to recycle my old paint, but I know the limits now so I can next time! The color you are remixing has to be similar to the color you want, both in terms of hue and saturation. I think this would be really helpful if you had a whole lot of different “beige” tones and you combined them into one consistent color with the help of a little new tint and the mixing machine. I tried to take one gallon of leftover blue paint from a project and turn it into one gallon of dark purple paint for this project. You can’t go that far apparently! The guy at the store said he’s not a magician. BUT he did give me a discount on a new gallon of a paint! I hate having leftover paint because I do get the no-VOC line of whatever I can. My go-to brand is Yolo Colorhouse (local to the Pacific NW!) but they have limited colors, so I have used Benjamin Moore’s Natura line in our master (Paladian blue) and now our bathroom (Fire and Ice purple).
      • Total cost: $48 and a contribution to a corporate paint company who may have questionable morals.
      • Score on this one: consumed.
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Still space for some future projects!

  • Ceiling Paint: reused from another project. I really wanted a high gloss finish for the bathroom ceiling, but we already had white flat paint so… I’m probably the only one who notices anyway!
    • Total cost: $0
    • Score: balanced.
  • Paint supplies: I had all the supplies I needed to paint the room since we had painted almost the whole house already. I had rollers, brushes, etc. I didn’t have a paint tray, though. I substituted a pieces of aluminum foil for the tray. It worked out pretty well! I had to add more paint every half dozen rolls or so, since it didn’t have much capacity, but at least I could use my roller!
    • Total cost: $6 (I did buy a new roller and paint tape)
    • Score: balanced.
  • Mirror: Reused from another place in the house (was stored in the garage).
    • Total cost: $0
    • Score: not consumed!
  • Mirror frame (phase 2): I’ll make a frame out of pieces of lath or model wood, we’ll see when we get to phase two (probably later in July). For now, no cost or score.
  • Shelves: Ugh, here’s my mega disappointment.So, I was all set to make some shelves out of scrap wood. I have a miter saw to cut the wood and I even bought a new blade with more teeth for better cuts. But then I totally broke the saw in the process of changing the blade. I’m sure it is fine, but someone with better expertise than mine is going to have to put that thing back together if the safety guard is ever going to work properly again. Bummer. This was right before July 4th and we were having friends over, plus we’re about to leave for vacation and this is the last thing I want lingering (why did I start this again?). So I gave in – I ordered crappy shelves from Home Depot and installed them quickly. Now they totally suck and I’m going to have to buy shelf brackets to make them functional (they’re floating shelves but gravity is making an attempt at shaming their namesake). Sigh. At least they do hold minimal supplies for now, so the upgrade can wait until our return. Double sigh.
    • Total cost: $46 and a bit of my dignity, plus whatever the cost is going to be for brackets to hold up these sad, cheap Home Depot shelves (why do I keep buying stuff from there?!?)
    • Score: consumed
  • Towel Hooks: cheap single hooks from Amazon. ‘Course we already had the colorful towels. Part of me wants to go back to all white towels now, but I kind of like all the color against the purple walls!
    • Total cost: $12
    • Score: consumed (but I bought them a couple months ago so that counts for a middle ground somehow, right?)
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Hooks and frames – purchased months ago so they don’t count…. right?

  • Picture frames: frames I had impulse purchased a couple months ago from IKEA. I had to print the pictures.
    • Total cost: I don’t remember… $10 a frame? IKEA prices, you know.
    • Score: ugh, yes, I consumed again! But again, I bought these a few months ago too so they don’t count, right?
  • Jars: I’ve been keeping the glass jars that some of our food comes in – tomato sauce, honey, applesauce, etc. I used extra paint from another project to paint the inside of some of the jars. Other jars I collected from around the house. I put some paint in a couple jars to make them look Pinterest cool. An old honey jar now stores our toothbrushes. And I still have so many random jars to use!
    • Total cost: Free, with the purchase of food
    • Score: not consumed!

 

That’s two solid consumes, two balanced, two sorta forced balanced because I bought things months ago and abandoned them but eventually used them, and two not consumed. Hey, that’s not as bad as I thought! I’m now going to call this a quasi-success in my first attempt to redecorate without consumption. I bet I’ll get a lot better at this as time goes on!

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!