Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Food Freedom; growing , preserving, and budget shopping

-Let me start by saying, I realize that many of you reading may not be able to grow a big garden or have farm animals, but maybe this post will still help you shave a couple of dollars off that grocery bill!

We are a family of 3, and I spend between 35.00-45.00 a week at the grocery store.  This was a near 8 yr process to get to this point, and Yes there are times I go bit above this. but generally it lands in the lower 40's range.
Yesterday my bill was  $36.00 . From seed to table, we are able to enjoy delicious homegrown food year round and remove ourself from the financial stress of groceryshopping.
Even if you are spending 200.00 and want to half that, I am hoping this post helps and inspires you give it a try!

1. Grow your own

If you have a yard, you have room for a garden! Heck turn your yard into a garden, why not?  growing your own bounty/gardending is great stress relief ( therapy really), good exercise, does wonders for pent up energy/anxiety/depression( soaking up that sunshine and digging your hands in he earth is a very healing act). and, you are rewarded with a bounty of organic veggies!

We currently have 4 gardens, all pretty good in size. totaling about 2700 sq ft of garden space. I grow enough for our family and extra to sell at the market.( this will be talked about more in #9).
If your space is limited consider growing items you can preserve and have enough of to get through to next season. Potatoes are great because they don't require canning, are easy to grow, are filling, go with any meal, and can be cooked so many ways!
other items to consider, : Tomatoes ( for salsa and pasta sauce9, green beans, and cucumbers for pickles,)
If space allows plant some blueberry bushes, or fruit trees! they are great for jams, canned fruit and for desserts in the winter.

This particular topic should really have its own blog post, and I will stop here before I get carried away.
the point is, if you don't have a garden, and have room ( even for a container garden),its really the best first step in saving money and being self sufficient.

2. Preserve your Bounty

So, if you have a garden, and now have a garden big enough to have extra coming in. Can it ,freeze it dry it! There are many methods to choose from depending on what you are growing, and what you would like to do with those homegrown goodies , come winter.
below is an example of what we grow and preserve and how we preserve them

Green Beans: can
Tomatoes: canned tomatoes, and salsa canned
pickles; canned
potatoes; stored in baskets on cool floor
Sweet potatoes, stored in baskets on cool floor ( these keep very very well!)
Jams: canned ( peach, strawberry, wineberry , blueberry, applebutter,  and grape)
winter squash ; stored in baskets on cool floor
peaches; canned
apples for baking ; canned
applesauce; canned
grape juice ; canned
chicken stock ; canned
peppers; pickled and canned
apple cider; canned
Pesto ; frozen
Chickens ( we do 50 in a year, usually about 12-15 at a time ) frozen
eggs; daily and fridge
honey; room temp in buckets
broccoli ; frozen
sugarsnaps; frozen
Shiitake Mushrooms; canned and dried
Garlic; hung up

lettuce, kale, chard, onions, carrots, radish, spinach are eaten when in season

3. cook from scratch

So, I am "lucky" enough to be able to stay at home. I put "lucky" in quotes because I really think its a lifestyle choice for many. (which is why I am posting this blog!). Along with growing a majority of our food, from seed to table, nearly everything we eat is cooked from scratch.
While we do shop for snacks ( oh lord my daughter might have a heart attack should there not be crackers in the house) we do not buy boxed food, ever,and I can say that with confidence.
even things like pancakes, brownies, cookies,pie crusts, pizza crusts etc are all made from scratch.
Dinner consists mostly of what we grew. and the times that it isnt always has alteast one item from the garden on the table at dinner time. this lifestyle choice, among others, has allowed us to live on a smaller budget. and yes I am lucky, but It also take a lot of work.

4. shop local
ok, I know what you are thinking,, its more expensive,, and this may be so,, BUT your options are limited at the farmers market. you have your basic choices without the 10,000 boxes of processed (overpriced )food to choose from, so it forces you to cook :)  a few basic ingredients, some spices and some pasta , for instance, can make a delicious meal with enough for leftovers!

5. plan your meals

You don't have to be Julia Child to make a meal plan. And it doesn't have to be fancy. Heck you don't even have to write it out (although that's not a bad idea). But you should always see what you have, what basic ingredients you need, and what you need to buy  to make the meal happen, and anything you might need for leftovers.
Keep it simple.  For instance if I thaw a chicken, we might have Chicken , potatoes and green beans one night. The next day Ill cook down the bones for stock, make a pie crust, and use the stock and other canned veggies to make a pot pie , another 2 days of meals.

6. match it up

I think I kind of covered this. Match what you don't have at home  with what you do have. I know this seems like a really obvious statement, But I really wonder if sometimes people just go into the store with no idea what they have at home to begin with. This can really contribute to waste of money and and food,  (I talk about that in #7)

7. waste not want not

freeze those old bananas to make banana bread later in the week, make fried potato patties  out of those mashed potatoes you almost pitched. Crisp up that lettuce with some ice water, its still ok!
Is your bread ( homemade or not) at the end of its life? dice it up coat lightly  with olive oil, throw some seasoning on , and bake on low for some delicious croutons or breadcrumbs. Save your leftover veggies pieces parts in a bag in the freezer, pull them out at a later date to make some veggie stock. Think twice before pitching anything!

8.Be creative

I guess I covered creative in the "waste not want not" section. If you see something on sale, think outside the box, is there something you can pair it up with at home for that nights dinner? Maybe you don't have have all the ingredients suggested in your cookbook. Well someone made up that recipe, so why not recreate it a bit and make up your own !

9. Make it financially sustainable

Ok here is the biggie, and the biggest question I get  asked about our homestead..
"Doesn't it actually cost more to grow and preserve your own food?"

For us? No.  I would like to think we eat for Free ;)

The idea of sustainability always comes first.  we sell eggs to pay for the feed to have free eggs. When we process , say, 20 chickens, we will sell 7 or 8 to pay for the cost of the chicks an feed to we have free chicken.
We sell some of our  vegetables and plants to pay for the seed, soil, or anything else that may have gone into the gardening/growing  process.
We attend the farmers market weekly to sell our Honey,soap candles.  some of the Money we make from that will go into purchasing beef, goat cheese ; items we don't produce ourselves. Many times we trade :)
It all works really well for us and enables us to live off the land as much as possible.

10. Eat with the seasons

Easy peasy! Eat what you grow, and if you don't grow it, you will surely find it at a good price in the grocery story or market when its in season.   Strawberries in June, peaches in July,  apples in September,  or sweet potatoes in October... You are sure to find many items close to half off when they are in season!

 If you a garden even better!!! I have some great recipes throughout my blog to help you when you have an abundance of one item :)

If you have a pick your own farm nearby, that is a great time to get your apples, peaches, strawberries at a great price . bring them home, enjoy some and preserve some for winter ( make apple pie in December... your family will thank you :)

11. Expired snacks

STOP, for the love of god, STOP paying 3.49 for a box of crackers ... find a store ( like Big lots) that has an expired or near expired shelf. I can get brand name crackers for .75 sometimes,, then I just buy all of them, haha. because we all know they aren't gong to magically go bad on that expiration date.
Snacks are the one things we do  buy ,mostly crackers, pretzels, nuts... basic and somewhat healthy and can be paired with homemade dips, goat cheese , topped with veggies or mixed in salads. This way I have a stockpile until I score more

Whether you are beginning your life on your new homestead, trying to achieve a life of self reliance, or just looking for ways to cut your grocery bill, I hope some of these tips help you achieve your goals and save some money!

The Cools

Monday, November 16, 2015

A mild( and busy) November

Well, its been a bit since I have posted, I do apologize! I promised myself I would post often, and well to be honest time just kinda slipped by!
as usual we have been very busy around the homestead.
While bee and garden season have come to and end, there is still a lot of wood to be split and stacked, and bees to feed..
Despite the warm days, ive still found time to hide in my favorite nook, my sewing room, and start another quilt!


We have also been working on some small projects around the house! Sometimes a little paint and a new bookshelf can really brighten up a room, and so that's just what we did! The living room received a new coat of paint in a gorgeous "azure winter". The color was really hard to photograph, so between that at your monitor it might look blue.. But its more of a very pale bluegreen very subtle and really brightened up the room. We added a delightful bookshelf to our new little nook ( 10 desk painted by moi, and all) which is made out of barnwood and some black pipe. Of course some birds nest adorn it as well, I just love bringing things from outside, in to the home. Snail shell collection and all;)

I also just finished a Headboard for my daughters New room ( if you read the previous posts, we did a small remodel on her room,, added a closet, painted etc)
It is made out of pallets! The idea of course was from Pinterest, and I am very pleased with how it came out! I don't usually paint, so was a bit nervous about messing up the dandelions, but surprised myself ;)

And of course, with the chilly night upon us ( even though the days have been quite mild) we have been firing up the woodstove! ohhh how I missed baking! we do not have a regular oven, so all baking is either done in our solar oven, or the cookstove.

Yesterday; after a full day of splitting and stacking wood as a family , we made homemade pizzas, one of our favorites ( especially miss Norah!) I have posted the recipe for the dough below..This recipe will make 2 pretty big pizza crusts.
We decorated ours with Kale,Shiitake mushrooms and peppers from the garden ..
A blessed day here! I love the days we spend working together as a family.

Pizza Dough

2 1/4 tsp Dry active yeas
1 1/2 very warm water
4 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp Olive oil

put yeast in warm water and stir, let sit until it starts to froth and bubble
add oil to yeast mixture
Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in yeast mixture. mix with spoon and then put onto floured surface and need until smooth . Put in oiled bowl and cover, let sit for 20 minutes,,,
Roll out dough and place in pizza pans ( I use a cookie sheet)
Bake crust for about 15 minutes at 350... pull crust out of oven and then add sauce toppings and cheese
Baking for another (approx.) 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is browned and bubbly :)

Monday, November 2, 2015

When It rains, it Pours.................



The new and ( not so) improved generator

Thinking back on this past week, I honestly cant tell you of a day when the sun has made an appearance for more than a quick minute between the clouds. It has been overcast, and as of last night more rained has moved in ( we do need it! as we are still in a drought) and it doesn't look like its going anywhere, anytime soon.
During extremely rainy ,cloudy and overcast "spells" our batteries from our off grid system, take a hit. We use the generator to charge the batteries up, when they fall around 70% ( at the lowest). While it does not charge them up like the sun can, its a great ( and necessary) back up, if you don't want to lose your batteries.
The more your batteries go without sun, the harder time they have holding a charge. So on weeks like this, we are using the generator more than usual to keep our batteries topped off...

Around 7:30 last night, during a game of Go Fish with Norah,  Robb and I heard the generator , just putter and shut off.
OF COURSE its pouring rain, I mean what fun would it be to go work on a generator at 8:00 at night without it coming down buckets??
So, Robb fiddles with it for about and hour and a half, he checks the choke, low oil pressure gauge( disconnects that) takes the carb apart.. nothing,, Still getting gas but not starting....
By now its 9:30 , pouring out, we have batteries that were not fully charged, another 5 days of cloudiness in the forecast, and a broken generator, Yippy.Skippy.

Why don't you have a back generator? you might ask?? I don't know.... and you are right, we should.. and I suppose should be thankful atleast its not January and a full on blizzard so we can leave tomorrow to buy another generator ( ewwww, I don't want to spend my hard earned money on another generator!!!)

So up and at em' early this a.m. Dropped Norah off at school and headed to the pawn shop...

Now our current Generator is a powerhorse 9000 watt, with a 30 amp breaker,,, its large enough and has enough ampage that we can still "live our life" without knocking the generator off by using too much power..
The generator we are looking for today, was not going to be that,, why? because I am not spending 700.00 today,,,, I stuffed 300.00 in my purse and was sticking to that budget. Because in my world that's a lot of cash to spend on something "unfun"...

Hit the pawn shop.. Nothing, all of them were 20 amp.. Hit Lowes Home improvement,, they had 2 and they were Expensive, way more than I wanted to spend on a back up....
They had a reasonably priced one that they could order, but it would take 8 days. We nicely told the guy that we don't have 8 days, we have .. I don't know... 8 hours.... No sun + no genny= batteries slowllllly discharging...
He did mention that we try Tractor Supply,, and so we did :)

Score! Found a 3500 watt genny with a 30 amp breaker for 299.00... situation diffused..
now just a trip back to Lowes to get a plug that  Robb thought TSC didn't have , and home to realize we don't need that plug anyway, ;) hehe...

Moral of the story??
hmm I suppose there could be many..
* things WILL go wrong when you are your own power company
*back up generators, and off grid equipment may seem like a waste of money but will save you massive amounts of stress when things break...
*While we love all seasons, We really miss The long sunny days already!!!
*chickens have bad hair days when it rains too :D

The Cools

UPDATE: Robb found the problem with the original generator. The Rocker arm stud busted off,, looks like something he can fix and will only cost about 30.00 bucks :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Norahs Quilt

And just like that ;) Norah's quilt is finished! I took me about a month or so to finish.. sitting down in between chores, bottling honey, making soap, making dinner and all the other necessary things that need to happen in the household ;) I am so happy with how it turned out. I didn't measure or really have "perfection" in mind when I made it,, cutting the strips all different sizes and just kinda wingin' it, if you will.
I can not wait to see it on her bed, in her new Room, which should be done in the next day or so..

next up , a quilt for our bed  ;)


The Cools

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A New Room for Norah


Its been a busy and fun filled week here ! Norah is getting a "New" Room! A new closet, a paint job, a new quilt, "new" desk, and a new rug. Robb and My dad knocked out a cinderblock wall that connect our living room to Norahs Room, then  framed in the closet and got the dry wall up.  We lost a little bit of living Room space, but now Norah will have a closet !Now we just have some more sanding ( oh the mess!!!! its killing me) and then painting, and  clean up.

I am sanding her new desk and getting ready to paint it. I found it at a thrift shop for 25.00 and its awful cute. A place for her to draw, read, do homework , a space of her own :)

I am almost done with her Quilt, my mom helped me work on it while she was here. I just need to bind it!! Pictures coming soon!!
And the paint, ohhhhh the paint... As you can see, the room will be Pink... I fought it a bit, but between Nana's convincing and Norahs desperation to have a pink room, we all settled on a color I might be able to tolerate,,hehe...
She is one excited 8 year old girl ;)


Friday, October 2, 2015

6 Days Of Rain



6 Days of rain Last week, totaling 10 inches ( with more on the way) Kept us snug in our home; Crafting , Canning, Baking ,Reading.. I gave Norah A lesson on the Sewing machine and she was hooked. She made 2 handbags that she was awfully proud of ( and rightfully so)  ;) She also made some fancy head wear for her beloved Ponies.

Im still working on Apples.. and more apples,, After this batch I will have put up somewhere around 140 lbs of apples..

and then Yesterday after 6 days of NO SUN (which can be especially hard when living off grid,, our panels desperately needed sun as did we! ) that big beautiful Ball of Fire made a quick appearance




The sun shining through the window, watching Norah run outside to play  and getting my hands in the dirt a bit to dig some sweet potatoes and do some fall cleanup was much needed before this next batch of rain its because it's going to be a doozie...

Hoping we don't have to leave, as we live in a 100 yr flood plain...
Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst... So ready for this to pass and get some Sunshine in our lives..
For now the crafting,sewing,  baking ,canning and hibernating will continue

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Shiitake Mushroom Ravioli


Yesterdays weather was exactly what you think of when you think of Autumn,, Cool, rainy, windy, dark, and dreary.. A perfect day to make something delicious in the kitchen..
Our shiitake mushrooms logs produced and abundance of mushrooms last week. We "shocked them" ( which is soaking them to force them to fruit) but they were not ready in time to sell at the market, but alas, the day after ( I think the cooler weather takes them longer to full open)

So anyhow, here I am with all these mushrooms; these delicious, healthy , nutrient dense, vitamin packed mushrooms ....I've canned enough for winter, I've dehydrated some in the sun oven, and still had quite a few left... what to do? I came across a few different recipes for mushroom ravioli. I looked at a few recipes, and then do what I Usually do, make  up my  own version ;)

*** See recipe at the bottom of the page

We ended the day with a fire in the Cookstove to take the chill out of the air.
Full bellies, warm house,, feeling grateful..
Our pup was pretty content too ;)

Shiitake Ravioli


3 Cups Flour
4 eggs
2 Tbsp Olive Oil

Add eggs;one at a time to flour. most recipes said to use a dough hook, but I just used a fork.
Add olive oil.. mix and gather with hands to form into a ball. Wrap up in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes ( on counter)

15 oz Ricotta cheese
5 oz mozzarella
2 eggs
 approx. 2 cups sliced or diced Shiitake mushrooms

in a bowl mix ricotta cheese, Mozzarella Cheese, and eggs.

Sautee Shiitake Mushrooms in butter for about 10 minutes on low

Roll your dough out until it is about 1/8th inch thick, or thinner.. Its tricky, you don't want the dough to thick or you will have meaty ravioli but you don't want it too thin so they break and you have filling in your water when boiling them ....
Better to err on the side of caution and not roll them out to thin...

You will need some sort of circular cookie cutter, to cut the dough once it rolled out. I use one that is about 3" in diameter. I cut then roll out the dough a little more.

Place a tsp or so of filling in the center and then a tiny dollop of mushrooms on top.. Place another piece of dough on top..Start on one side and gently seal the the pasta all the way around..push down sides,, then take a knife and cut off access dough( forming a square shape) you can push down on the edged with a fork to seal better and it looks pretty :)
This takes some practice, but you will get the hang of it.;)

Place raviolis in boiling water and boil about 10 minutes. Serve with your favorite pasta sauce.