Archive for February, 2012

Cook Smart


I’ve seen this quote and matching distressed mother on my facebook thread a few times lately.  That’s me.  Last night we had toast and eggs.  And then I remembered my crockpot.

I don’t know why I got away from using the crockpot.  For a while I was using it 4-5 times a week.  Using the crockpot isn’t just a preference for slow-cooked foods.  It is something that truly changes my day to day life, for the better.  Way better.  How many days does the 5-7 pm time frame just about do you in, ladies?  We’re already tired from our day’s events, we’ve sometimes just returned home, sometimes yesterday’s dishes are piled in the sink, and many times there’s nothing planned for dinner.  Children begin to escalate as their bellies growl and discontentment in the house goes up quite a few notches.  Sound familiar?  For sure.

Somehow I forgot the GREAT HAPPINESS that comes when I reach 5 pm and dinner is already ready.  Secondly, that happiness is compounded by the fact that the only dishes to wash from dinner are the crockpot (easy if you use cooking spray before filling the crockpot), 4 plates, and 4 forks.  I fill plates, I sit and eat, someone does 3 minutes of dishes, and we have sailed through the dinner hour.  Right now, it’s 4:34.  In my kitchen is a crockpot full of hot tender BBQ ribs, and some baked potatoes are almost done in the oven.  I am tired from my day, and I am blogging.  I am not cooking dinner.  I heart crockpots. 

Veggie chopping in the great outdoors.

To compound happiness upon happiness, not only will I find hot dinner ready at 5pm, and wash only a few dishes, but I will also eat whole food ingredients without any work.  Today I have chopped and mixed up the ingredients for 6 crockpot meals over the next few weeks.  They are there, in my freezer, just waiting for me to dump them into my crockpot on some hairy-kairy morning.  What a joy notcooking dinner will be on those days.  So that makes the next two weeks of meal planning really easy.  3 days of ready to dump crockpot meals, 1 day of crockpot chicken meal, 1 hamburger day, 1 day eating out, and one dinner left to plan.  Freezer to crockpot, fresh healthy meals.  Today, happiness is a crockpot.  And tomorrow too.  🙂

The kids and I sat outside on the patio table and chopped vegetables in the sunlight.  Beautiful.  Then they fed the scraps to the chickens and rabbits, who were also then very happy.

Here are the three meals I made two bags each of.

Teriyaki Chicken (2 Bags)

  • Split a large bag of Baby Carrots between the 2 bags (I cut up whole carrots)
  • Cut Onion into Large Chunks and split between the 2 bags
  • (1) 20oz can pineapple in each bag (undrained) (I split one between 2 bags)
  • (2) Garlic Cloves chopped per bag
  • (2) Chicken Breasts in each bag
  • 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce in each bag (I’m adding this when I dump it in the crockpot)

*Add 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce to mixture. Cook on HIGH for 4 hours or LOW for 8 hours. Serve over Rice.

Vegetable Beef Soup (2 Bags)

  • Chop (1) Onion and Chop (2) Cloves of Garlic- Brown in Pan with the Ground Beef- once cool divide mixture between bags  (Instead, I taped a bag with uncooked stew meat to the bag with the veggies).
  • (2) whole carrots chopped per bag
  • (2) celery stalks chopped per bag
  • (3) Red Potatoes chopped per bag
  • (1) can v8 split between bags
  • (1) 28oz can diced tomatoes SPLIT between bags
  • (1) cup frozen green beans in each bag (I left this out)
  • (1/2)TBSP Worcestershire per bag
  • (1/2) cup Beef Broth per bag
  • (1) TBSP Parsley per bag
  • (1) tsp Basil per bag
  • 1/2 tsp Thyme per bag
  • (1/2) tsp salt per bag
  • (1/2) tsp pepper per bag
  • (1) TBSP Sugar per bag (optional)

*Place in Crockpot with 1.5 cups of water and 15 oz Beef Broth. Cook on LOW 8 Hours.

Chicken Fajitas (two bags)

  • 1 yellow pepper, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • fajita seasoning

*Place in Crockpot with small amount of water.  Serve with tortillas, cheese, and other fixins.



(P.S.  Crockpotting doesn’t change yourself or your kids, so sadly not even all crockpot dinner hours will be smooth sailing.  For those changes, check with the Creator.  He’s got the real hope and change.)


The new boots…

I know all of you have been sitting on the edges of your seats waiting to see what boots I would find since I posted a while back that my tennis shoes aren’t cutting it.  Well, I found them when I wasn’t looking.  Isn’t that how it always happens?  I did look a few times before.  I tried on some awesome looking cowgirl boots that were way too fancy to get dirty.  I may still come back to those, but they didn’t really seem to fit my purpose – which is doing chores, working in the garden, feeding the animals, and just general romping through the pasture with the family (a favorite pass time when it’s warm).  🙂

We were on vacation last week and decided to go to a huge crafts fair for the morning.  We did, and I didn’t buy anything crafty.  My only purchase?  BOOTS!  Check out these AMERICAN MADE, MICROFIBER LINED (no sweat), WATER AND MUD PROOF, EXTRA SUPPORTIVE INSOLE, GOOD LOOKIN’ BOOTS!

~Sloggers~ That's right, I'm gonna be sloggin through the mud in these babies.

If you have GOT to have a pair of these, check craft fairs, or the Slogger Store online.  They were only $40!  Much cheaper than a cowgirl boot.  Besides that, I’m not a cowgirl, I’m a homesteader.

Tis the season for planting seeds indoors!  Wohoo!  The time has come to get my hands in the dirt, even just a little!  I am all set and ready to fill my seedling pots with luscious black soil, and happily bury one tiny miracle capsule into each pot.  That’s what seeds are to me – tiny miracle capsules… out of something the size of one tiny morsel comes armloads of life-giving food.  It’s a miracle.  And a beautiful expression of God’s faithfulness and graciousness to us.  And I can’t wait to watch them grow!  I think I’ll do two sessions later today: one planting with the kids, and one alone so I can fully enjoy the task.  Perfect.

If you haven’t seen the Back to Eden movie about gardening and you have even the slightest inkling of a desire to garden, you should watch it.  This should change the way we garden, increase our ability to “find time” to do it, and help those of us who want to raise a bigger garden and handle the work load.  It’s beautiful to see someone so clearly understand the connection between God and agricultural work, and his system is amazing.  Love it.

I’d like to encourage you to take a minute to step out into nature and really drink in its beauty, to purposefully set aside some time to just bask for a bit.  It’s like water to the soul.  Everything that He has made is so good, so beautiful and perfect.  This winter the ducks and geese have been absolutely breathtaking.  I find myself rolling down the window and pulling over to the side of the road to watch them fly by and hear them squawk.  There are literally thousands of them here this winter, and they love to rest in the fields next to our house.  🙂  Yay.  The sunsets have been equally as enthralling, a year-round joy I will never tire of.  I also don’t think I will ever loose my love for the fresh eggs that my children bring into me daily from the hens.  It’s like a gift every morning, a bountiful provision from the Creator.  So break away from your usual indoors winter routine, and find a place to sit outside, or even in your car outside if its really cold, and just reflect on the beauty of nature.

Next time I post, perhaps I will have beautiful little seed sprouts to share!


A Breath of Fresh Air for the Homeschool Heart

I am reading an ebook called “Simply Homeschool: Having Less Clutter and More Joy in Your Homeschool” by Karen DeBeus.  I have found quite a few nuggets of gold in Ms. DeBeus’ ebook, which feels sort of like sitting down at her kitchen table over hot tea, and sharing heart to heart about our homeschool journeys together.  Oh that the blog world were like that… that tomorrow I could call up Karen and invite her over.  Nonetheless, I have been encouraged by her writing in my own homeschool life and wanted to share a few tid-bits with you.  Read these as if straight from my own pen:

HOMEschool Means Being Home

Another area where homeschoolers are trying to ‘fill up’ is outside activities. Deep down I wonder if this is because we feel a need to measure up to what everyone else is doing. It seems these days everyone is running around. The more scheduled activities, the better. The more classes, sports, and activities your child is signed up for the more “well-rounded” your child is. Ah! Let my child not be “well-rounded” then! (Exactly my thoughts!  I get this all the time!)

I feel that kids need to be kids. Let their afternoons be filled with exploring {especially outdoors.} They need time to be by themselves, even if that means being bored sometimes. They need to have that down time to find what they enjoy doing, to actually be alone.

We do outside activities, but we limit them. We have one full day where we are outside of the house for a fine arts program. There is another evening we are out for church activities. But the other days we really try to be home and focused on what we need to do at home.  (We do outside activities, and also limit them.  On Monday evenings Keith and Jeremiah go to Cub Scouts, and sometimes on Thursday we go to homeschool social time at McDonald’s.  We go to church and the one per quarter homeschool co-op activity such as Monday’s Valentine’s party.  By the time you add into that a field trip once a month and playdates with our homeschooling cousins, I already find it a challenge to spend most of our time at home.  So I maintain a grip on the reigns and anytime I feel we are spending too much time running around, I simply pull back a bit.  It has worked well for us so far this year.  I think it will be come more difficult as the kids get older.  Next year Jeremiah could join band.  We are also considering joining a Classical Conversations Tuesday weekly group.  So are we going to do Scouts Monday, CC Tuesday, cousins Wednesday, McDonald’s Thursday?  Needless to say, that is too much running around and leaves too little time to be HOME… where live happens, where family grows, where character is instilled, where joy is savored.)

So limit the outside actitivites as best as you can. Again, remeber: focus on filling up on Him. Not just filling up time.  (Good stuff, Karen!)

Ms. DeBeus also had some great ideas about simplifying homeschool “stuff”, remembering why I homeschool, and not falling into the comparison trap and feeling inadequate compared to what others are doing.  I really appreciate her authentic and heart-felt writing – and this is just 3 chapters into it.  😉  Maybe I’ll post more about it another time.  Either way, I highly recommend Karen DeBeus’ ebook, “Simply Homeschool: Having Less Clutter and More Joy in Your Homeschool” .  Enjoy!

My Food Journey

Food.  We all eat it.  We all need it.

Food can nourish our bodies or pollute our bodies. It can improve our health or it can make us sick.  It can be be treasured and appreciated, or it can be taken for granted and abused.

Each person’s journey with food starts as a young child.  What we learn at home stays with us for the rest of our lives, including our eating habits and our view of food.  For me, that food journey started in the early 1980’s when every kitchen boasted it’s own Fry Daddy and when Spaghetti-O’s were a pantry staple.  Women had gone to work, and convenience food was the much appreciated time-saver they all needed.  This was before the internet, before organic, and before America had awakened to the fact that Fry Daddys and processed foods make us obese and sick.  My mother was not an unusually unhealthy cook, it was just the way of the times.

During high school I used to buy a Pepsi every day during morning break, and sometimes pair that with an order of fried hashbrowns from the cafe across the street.  At lunch I’d chow down on a chili cheese deep-fried burrito and a side of greasy tator tots.  My favorite.  The day was rounded out with a bag of chips or a plate of pizza rolls, and often something like Hamburger Helper or deep-fried chicken strips and french fries for dinner, and of course ice cream or brownies for dessert.  I actually never ate a salad until I was in my 20’s.  My food journey started out on a pretty bleak note.

It was about ten years ago that I first learned that a romaine salad is better for me than a chili cheese burrito with tator tots.  Periodically during my late twenties I would come across some reading that revealed to me the sad truth about processed food.

*Processed foods can cause diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.   Not things I want to have.

*Processed foods are linked closely to obesity.  Not something I want to be.

*Harmful chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, and additives) are in almost all conventional foods to increase production, shelf-life, and decrease things such as pests and weeds.  These chemicals are linked to cancer, endocrine diseases, nerve problems, and a very long list of other undesirable health conditions.  No thanks.

*High-fructose corn syrup (soda) is linked closely with obesity, heart problems, and a list of other health problems.  Not worth it.

*Hydrogenated oils can cause heart disease, cancer, and obesity.  Not for me.  Not for my children.

(Not convinced?  Google it yourself.)

But change does not come overnight, not after a lifetime of addiction to high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.  But slowly, step by step, I have made progress in my food journey.

Some of the steps I have taken are:

*replaced sugar with honey in much of my baking

*bake bread at home, whole wheat with honey

*broke an addiction to soda and caffeine

*never fry, always oven-bake

*cook from scratch, use very few boxed items

*make my own snacks for the kids from scratch

*use grass-fed meat and eggs in our meals

*eat more vegetables – less out of a can, more fresh or frozen

*most recently, buy organic produce and dairy rather than conventional

I think there are endless improvements to make in healthy eating.  From morning smoothie concoctions to using more beans and grains and less meat – but for now, I am happy with the steps I have taken over the last years.  When I set food before my family, I am happy with what they are eating, and that feels great.  Amazingly, the addition of grass-fed meat, eggs, and organic produce and dairy has not increased my grocery bill.  I have stopped piling my cart full of frozen pizzas, little yellow fish crackers, canned and bottled drinks, and boxed quick-fix meals, and started filling it with the whole foods that my family and myself need to maintain healthy bodies.

I buy my grass-fed beef from a local producer who is also a friend in our journey towards our own sustainable farm this year.  It’s only $5/lb for ground beef, just $1 or so more than what I used to pay for corn-fed.  We raise our own pastured chicken and free-range eggs, which we are really enjoying.  The taste is fabulous, and I don’t think we could ever go back to supermarket chicken or eggs.  It would be like eating cardboard when you are used to dining on succulent steaks.  We will be increasing our production this spring and selling both free-range eggs and pastured chicken, and also pastured turkey in the fall.  I’ve been buying my organic dairy (just cheese and occasional cream – we drink organic rice milk) and organic produce from Whole Foods.  While their prices can be pretty good on some items, I would rather buy from a local producer, as most of the produce I bring home from Whole Foods is from Peru or Chile.  I’ve got no beef with Peru or Chile, I’d just rather support a local or regional organic grower, and not have my food flown in from half way around the world.  As spring and summer heat up, it will be easier to do that – and of course, our own back yard garden will be a great source for local produce!

So that’s my story.  I didn’t go into the emotional details or the roller coasters and yo-yos I’ve traveled through with food.  I’d like to say my food journey looked like a slow and steady upward trend graph.  Mine probably looks more like huge mountains and valleys where over time the valleys slowly become less deep, and the overall average of the chart slowly inches up, point by point.  This year’s stability in our life has helped greatly, bringing more of a steady climb on the healthy eating virtual chart rather than a bunch of jagged peaks.

When it comes to healthy eating, healthy is the key word.  Food is a treasure, a gift from God, and something that we should contemplate our own view and relationship with.  I for one, am ready to know what is in my food, to know how it will affect my body and my life, and to choose that food which will empower me to live the life I was made for.

Here’s to good food.