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Traveling with Clean Food, Part 1: Pre-Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing Home the Bacon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now my shopping order goes something like this…

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

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

 

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:

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

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

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

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

 

Kale Chips

Ingredients:

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

Equipment:

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

Directions:

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

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

Book Review: Radical Homemakers

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

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My copy, which is quickly becoming worn!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The HOW (and the when)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Where does the time go?

Where does the time go, amiright? Baby2 is almost two years old and I haven’t written a proper blog post in nearly a year. I’ve had a couple draft posts going that I picked at from time to time, but I just haven’t felt as motivated to write as I did when I was pregnant.

This quest to find motivation has been on my mind a lot lately. In pregnancy I was so motivated to write, despite being tired, swollen, all my free time taken meeting my exercise goals, etc. Maybe pregnancy just provides such good fodder for my writing muscle… but it isn’t like life right now is boring! Maybe pregnancy provides the focused subject that I lack now. Maybe there’s just SO MUCH that I could write about now that I can’t focus.

Other than being a good writing subject, I’ve also thought about pregnancy as being like a goal, with giving birth being the ultimate culmination of all the hard work of growing a baby. It has all these sub-goals and milestones that are really great for making me feel like I’m progressing toward something.

Goals are good; everybody says so. I’ve never used them much in my personal life, though, other than the big goals like finish school, find a job, find a partner, buy a house, etc. Were those really goals or just things I wanted? Or things I thought I needed to do? They’re “life checklist” things – they aren’t focused goals (to me).

Lists are really by bag – they’re how I typically stay focused and organized. But as I examine that approach now, it suddenly hits me as reactive. I want to get shit done, but I want more than that. When I look back at the end of the day, or the decade, I want to be able to say that I did something more than keep the kitchen clean and the family fed. Not that those aren’t important things! Or that I’ll stop doing them, which can’t really happen! Lists are important, but I’ve leaned on them too heavily and completely forgotten about goals!

Lately this bug has caught me. I have a need to always have a project going on, but this is more than that. I want a project with lots of little sub-projects, that takes a long time to complete, that not only gives me a sense of accomplishment but provides something for my family and maybe even my community as well.

There are a few things I’m working on right now, but I think they make really nice sub-projects that could contribute to a bigger goal. First, I’m driving big diet changes for the family: reducing processed foods, reading/researching ingredients, making more from scratch. This leads directly into my second “thing:” growing food. We’ve kept a garden for the last couple years, but we finally have space for a lot more so I’m working on growing my skills there. Third, and directly related to the other two, is that I’m trying to make stuff whenever possible. Not like, craft with macaroni and shit (not to bash if that’s what you’re into) but “make stuff” like making my toothpaste and bread.

Those three projects have a lot in common I think. The third is the closest to my overall goal, which I just kinda figured out now* is – I want my household to produce more than we consume. More “stuff” needs to go out than come in. I’m not talking about creating an Etsy shop or simply spending less than we earn – I’m talking about using what we have, selectively buying what we need, re-evaluating what we actually need. Re-evaluating what we actually need – that is a big one too.

I want to use this blog to document my latest creation. I want to post more again – maybe not as much as I posted during pregnancy, maybe more, I don’t know! Clearly I haven’t worked out the logistics yet. I was just now able to articulate my goal! I hadn’t been able to really do that until I started typing. This blogging thing is good for the goals I think. Anyway, I’ll save the logistics for the next post.

For now, I have a goal so I’m going to toast to that!

*Although to be fair, I did start this post a couple days ago 🙂