Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts

Jan 19, 2016

Backyard Homestead Kitchen Know-How: A Book Review

Backyard Homestead Kitchen Know How a Book ReviewWhen I first saw Andrea Chesman's The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How, I was skeptical. Was this really a book I'd find useful? After all, I regularly cook from scratch using backyard fresh ingredients, and I'm well versed in food preservation. Happily, however, Chesman's book completely exceeds my expectations.

The first three-quarters of this book were what I found the most useful. Here, Chesman gives tips on outfitting the homestead kitchen for "field-to-table" cooking; gives basic (though excellent) guidelines on how best to harvest, store, and cook fresh vegetables and vegetables; gives advice on dealing with a dried bean or grain harvest; looks at a few ways to make your own sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, and apple cider syrup); discusses how best to deal with eggs, various homestead birds, and rabbits; explains how to handle fresh milk; and explores the hands on aspects of  other homestead meats (beef, lamb, goat, and pig).

I love the author's advice on explaining to a butcher what cuts of meat you want; this is a process that can be completely overwhelming if you've never done it before. Chesman also offers interesting details on how to make boiled cider and cider syrup - something I'd never even heard of, but which is a viable alternative to syrup and molasses for those with apple trees. She also answered some of my questions about fertilized chicken eggs: Are they edible? Are they gross? And her information on handling a bird carcass in the kitchen, including how to freeze it (she favors the spatchcock method) and what to do with other edible parts (like hearts and livers, not to mention feet), is excellent. I also appreciate the details on how to properly render lard and tallow. And why is it I never thought to render chicken fat? Chesman claims it's a wonderful for cooking.

The author also covers preservation techniques, including dehydration, pickling and fermenting, cold storage (cellar or fridge), freezing (which she seems to favor), and canning. Oddly, Chesman admits she doesn't do much pressure canning; she prefers frozen vegetables and can't imagine what to do with canned meat. In fact, she claims the USDA recommends boiling canned meat before using it - something I've never read in any canning book or reliable canning site (like The National Center for Home Food Preservation). She does, however, put to rest botulism fears. (As long as you follow the basic rules, you are fine.)

There's also a section on what to make with homestead milk. Here, the author focuses on some of the easier items, like butter and creme fraiche, yogurt, ricotta, and mozzarella. Next is a section on charcuterie - or processing meats like bacon at home. I think she offers an excellent beginner's guide here, making homemade corned beef, ham, and sausage seem totally do-able.

The last quarter of the book is all recipes. I find this the least helpful section of the book, since most of the recipes I'm really attracted to (from scratch cream-of-anything soup, sourdough starter, no knead bread, making whipped cream from fresh milk, kimchi, homemade liquid pectin, etc.) are found in other sections of the book. In addition, I found some of the recipe choices odd. For example, the author mentions repeatedly that lard is a fantastic choice for pie crusts - yet there is no recipe for one anywhere in the book. Instead, she chooses to include a butter-based crust recipe.

Yet while there are some things I wish the author had mentioned (growing stevia or sugar beets, for example) or gone into more depth about (what are the best ways to use rendered fats?), the fact is, an author can only cover so much in a single volume. Yes, Chesman is opinionated (in her mind carrots are great for grilling but parsnips aren't), but I don't mind this. Her opinions come from years of experience cooking on the homestead. I may not agree with every little point she makes - but the fact is, they are just little points. Overall, Kitchen Know-How is an excellent reference and one I recommend for every homesteader or field-to-table cook.

Related Posts:
The Backyard Homestead book review
The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals book review


Jan 14, 2016

Easy Trick for Making Family Friendly Meals

Easy Trick for Family Friendly MealsBack before I had kids, I knew I'd never be the sort of parent who played short order cook, making
my children dinners that were different from what my husband and I ate. Ahem. Then our daughter came along. Three months early, in fact. And her months with a feeding tube made her sensitive to eating certain textures. And her tiny little body didn't tell her to eat nearly enough. So - yes, I started making her special meals, full of high calorie foods I knew she'd eat.

Then my son came along - a big, full term baby. There was no need to make him special meals, but I didn't want to show favoritism...So, in the end the children ate one meal and we parents another. Oh, how the mighty fall during parenthood.

Fast forward a few years, and I'd finally had enough of cooking double meals. I decided both kids needed to eat whatever the adults ate...and today both my kids - really without much struggle - do eat the same meal we do.

But, as I'm sure is true in most houses, some dishes go over far better with the kids than do others. At our house - and maybe yours - certain foods and textures just don't get eaten by the children. For example, neither of my children likes chunks of tomatoes in cooked foods like chili. Well, I've finally come up with a solution to that. Maybe it's obvious to some people, but it sure wasn't to me: Puree the offending food.

You see, I noticed my kids ate my mother-in-law's chili without complaint, whereas they tended to eat around the tomatoes in my chili. "Oh, I just puree them in," my mother-in-law told me. DUH! Why didn't I think of that!

Of course, this works not only for tomatoes, but also for onions, sweet peppers, or just about any other ingredient your kids don't like chunks of.

So now when I make chili (or other dishes I normally make with chunks of cooked tomatoes in them), I just open a jar of home canned tomatoes and stick my immersion blender in it. In a few seconds, the tomatoes are liquefied and the liquid goes into whatever I'm cooking. If you don't use tomatoes in a glass jar*, just empty canned tomatoes into a bowl or pot and puree with an immersion blender before adding them to whatever you're cooking. Don't have an immersion blender? You could use a blender or food processor instead. (But seriously, an immersion blender is really cheap and super useful!)

The solution is SO simple. And simple is SO good.


* If you use canned tomatoes, you ought to consider buying them in a glass jar. That's because the acid in tomatoes tends to leach chemicals from cans. This not only makes the tomatoes taste weird (you'll be pleasantly surprised by tomatoes canned in glass), but it puts potentially harmful chemicals, like BPA, in your body.


Jan 5, 2016

How to Turn Crock Pot Recipes Into Oven (or Stove Top) Recipes

Believe it or not, last week I wanted to turn a crock pot recipe into an oven recipe. Um, I never
thought I'd want to do that, either. Turns out, though, I had a good reason: My crock pot wasn't big enough to properly cook the recipe I wanted to try. (For good results, slow cookers should be no more than 2/3 full.) There are a few other reasons you might want to covert crock pot or slow cooker recipes into recipes that work in the oven or stove top:
  • Your crock pot is tall, instead of wide - which doesn't work that great for things like lasagna.
  • You're cooking a large piece of meat (like a whole chicken) that doesn't fit into your crock pot.
  • You planned for a crock pot meal, but totally forgot to get it going in the morning. (I'm sure - ahem - someone has done that!)
  • You remembered to put the ingredients in the crock pot, but forgot to turn the crock pot on. (Again, I have no experience with that! Ha!)
  • You don't have a crock pot, but the recipe sure looks yummy. (Maybe you should just buy a crock pot?)
How to Convert Crock Pot Recipes to Oven Recipes

It isn't difficult at all! Just follow this basic formula:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Put the food in some sort of oven-safe container that has a lid. Dutch ovens are perfect for this, but you could also use a lidded casserole dish.

3. If the crock pot recipe calls for cooking the meal on high, divide the number of cooking minutes by 4 to learn how long to cook the meal in the oven. If the crock pot recipe calls for cooking the meal on low, divide the number of cooking minutes by 2 to learn how long to cook it in the oven. In other words:

HIGH: /4
LOW: /2

4. Check the meal every few hours, to make sure the liquid hasn't evaporated. Crock pots do an excellent job of retaining moisture and dishes cooked in the oven will dry out more quickly. Add additional liquid, if needed.

5. If the dish contains meat, use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.


How to Convert Crock Pot Recipes to Stove Top Recipes

For soups, this is a better choice than using the oven. 

1. Cook any meat the recipe calls for. Beef should usually be browned well in a skillet; pork can be cooked in the oven or in a skillet; and chicken can be cooked in the skillet or boiled.

2. Put the cooked meat and all the other ingredients into a pot and cook over medium low heat. I recommend barely simmering the soup for at least an hour. The longer you cook, the better the flavor will be, but you don't want to reduce the soup too much, or it will be more of a stew.


Related Posts:
Converting Conventional Recipes for the Crock Pot 
Improving Crock Pot Food - Making Better Recipes
Keep in mind that when cooked in an Dutch oven, the liquid in a braise or stew evaporates more quickly and may result in a drier dish. Check it every hour or two to ensure the liquid doesn't evaporate completely. Before converting a slow-cooker recipe to a Dutch oven, make sure you have a comparably sized Dutch oven or you'll need to adjust the ingredient amounts.

Read more : http://www.ehow.com/how_4926523_convert-cooker-times-oven-time.html
Keep in mind that when cooked in an Dutch oven, the liquid in a braise or stew evaporates more quickly and may result in a drier dish. Check it every hour or two to ensure the liquid doesn't evaporate completely. Before converting a slow-cooker recipe to a Dutch oven, make sure you have a comparably sized Dutch oven or you'll need to adjust the ingredient amounts.

Read more : http://www.ehow.com/how_4926523_convert-cooker-times-oven-time.ht

 




Keep in mind that when cooked in an Dutch oven, the liquid in a braise or stew evaporates more quickly and may result in a drier dish. Check it every hour or two to ensure the liquid doesn't evaporate completely. Before converting a slow-cooker recipe to a Dutch oven, make sure you have a comparably sized Dutch oven or you'll need to adjust the ingredient amounts.

Read more : http://www.ehow.com/how_4926523_convert-cooker-times-oven-time.htm

Dec 29, 2015

Most Popular Posts 2015 - and All Time!

I've been blogging at Proverbs 31 Woman for six years (and have written over 1,140 posts!), but honestly, I never have any clue which posts are going to be the most talked about or viewed. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and judging by what posts are most popular here, I have to agree! It's always a pretty eclectic list. I hope you enjoy it!

(P.S. Want to see more popular posts from Proverbs 31 Woman? Check out the Pinterest page "Most Popular Posts at Proverbs 31 Woman.")


Most Popular Posts from 2015:

1. Why I Don't Watch HGTV (And Maye You Shouldn't Either)

2. Free Art History Curriculum: Edgar Degas (this whole series is popular, but this is the most popular post from the series)

3. How to Kill E.Coli on Vegetables and Fruits

4. No Fail Healthy Pie Crust Recipe

5. Keeping the House Cool in Summer (With and Without AC)

6. 12 Old Fashioned Birthday Party Games for Kids

7. How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

8. "I Am..." A Self Worth Craft for Kids


Most Popular Posts of All Time:

1. How to Train Chickens (and Get Them to Do What You Want Them to Do)

2. Best Free Apron Patterns on the Net

3. 6 Ways to Teach Kids the Books of the Bible

4. Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans

5. How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove

6. How to EASILY Clean Ceilings and Walls - Even in a Greasy Kitchen

7. Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

8. Easy Refrigerator Pickled Beets

9. Freezing Apple Pie Filling


Dec 7, 2015

How to Kill E. Coli on Vegetables and Fruits

In the last few weeks, there have been several recalls on fresh produce due to possible E. coli contamination. Since then, I've seen a myriad of Internet articles and posts claiming all sorts of ways to kill E. coli, salmonella, and other bacteria on fresh produce. The question is: Do any of them work?
How to Kill E. Coli on Vegetables and Fruits
First, How Common Are E. Coli Infections?

According to the CDC, there are an estimated  265,000 illnesses E. coli infections in the United States each year. However, it's important to note that this figure is an estimate only; experts say most people don't seek medical care for infections, and even those who do usually don't have a stool test for positive identification. Also remember that not all incidences of E. coli outbreaks are caused by contaminated food. For example, E. coli is also spread by hands (which are usually contaminated with human waste), or when human hands touch (live) animals (for example, at a petting zoo)

Dr. Robert Brackett, the Director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/prevention/how-to-kill-e-coli-on-vegetables?page=all#sthash.0ZdcRWYw.dpuf
Does Washing Kill E. Coli?


Most Internet articles, videos, and news reports about bacteria on produce say to scrub fruits and vegetables in hot water to remove bacteria. But according to Dr. Robert Brackett of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology, washing fruits and vegetables - whether with plain water, vinegar, bleach, dish soap, or hydrogen peroxide - does not remove harmful pathogens that make you sick.

This is because E. coli actually attaches itself to the surface of the food and produces something called a biofilm - which you can think of as a sort of protective bubble that makes it extremely difficult to wash away the bacteria. Because of this biofilm, something like bleach, which would normally kill E. coli, is ineffective. (Not to mention that putting bleach or hydrogen peroxide on your food could make you sick all by itself)

So yes, something like a vinegar wash may remove some bacteria (and certainly dirt and some portion of the pesticides used on the food), but it certainly won't get rid of everything that makes you sick.



How to Kill E. Coli on Produce

The only way for consumers to be sure their produce is free from bacteria is to cook it thoroughly. Sadly, a quick toss in the skillet or a light steaming isn't enough to kill E. coli and other bacteria. Instead, you'll have to make sure your produce reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. for at least 15 seconds. (That means testing it with a good thermometer, folks.)

What About Home Grown Fruits and Vegetables?

There are no statistics about home grown food and E. coli. This is probably mostly because most people don't know what's making them sick. Is it the flu? Or food poisioning? Most of us never learn. My personal belief, however, is that home grown produce is less likely to make you sick. After all, it's not fertilized with sludge (human waste), watered with manure-contaminated water, or handled by very many people. However, home gardeners must follow certain basic precautions:

* Don't use greywater on edibles. (Though it should be fine for watering fruit and nut trees.)
* Don't use roofline water on your edibles. (It can contain animal feces and other contaminantes.)
* Never use fresh manure in the garden. Always age it at least 6 months before applying it. As an added precaution, dig composted manure into the soil, instead of using it on top of the soil.
* When handling produce, always make sure your hands are clean. (Wash them for 30 seconds in the hottest water you can stand, using soap, then rinse thoroughly.)

Do Does This Mean We Shouldn't Eat Raw Vegetables and Fruits?

Most experts say no; it's unlikely you will get E. coli from produce. Some experts recommend peeling fruits and veggies to lesson your risk of exposure (but often the most nutritious part of a veggie is it's peel). Others suggest removing the outer leaves from lettuce and cabbage heads to reduce the risk of exposure of harmful bacteria.

My best advice is to grow the veggies you eat raw and to cook all those you buy. Those who are at higher risk of death or serious injury from E. coli, such as small children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, should probably only eat vegetables if they are well cooked.


they produce a substance called “biofilm,” which encases the bacteria in a sort of shell and helps them stick to whatever they’ve latched onto. This coating keeps them from being washed away and also protects them from chemicals that could otherwise disable them.  In other words, adding a few drops of bleach to the water you use to wash vegetables will kill any bacteria in the water but won’t do much to the bacteria on the vegetables. - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/prevention/how-to-kill-e-coli-on-vegetables?page=all#sthash.0ZdcRWYw.dpuf
Dr. Robert Brackett, the Director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/prevention/how-to-kill-e-coli-on-vegetables?page=all#sthash.0ZdcRWYw.dp
Dr. Robert Brackett, the Director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/prevention/how-to-kill-e-coli-on-vegetables?page=all#sthash.0ZdcRWYw.dpu

Oct 8, 2015

How to Roast Pumpkin and Squash Seeds

When the leaves start turning brilliant shades of yellow, red, and orange, it's winter squash season - something everyone in my family looks forward to. It's no secret I think winter squash is an awesome food - yummy, nutritious, and perfect for we homesteader types. But did you know nearly all squash have deliciously edible seeds packed with protein, calcium, folate, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and vitamin K?

Most of us are familiar with roasted pumpkin seeds - but most other types of winter squash seeds are equally wonderful when roasted. Some are even superior to pumpkin! (My personal favorite is roasted butternut squash seeds.) In fact, the only winter squash seeds I've discovered that aren't particularly yummy are the seeds of red kuri squash.

Happily, making roasted squash seeds is very easy. Here's how I do it:

1. When cooking the winter squash of your choice, scoop out the stringy parts and seeds. Separate the seeds from the stringy parts. If a little bit clings to the seeds, that's okay. Compost the stringy part, or feed it to your chickens.

2. Place the seeds in a single layer on a plate; set aside. Once a day for a day or two, stir the seeds so they don't stick to the plate. Do not refrigerate.

3. Once the seeds have dried for a day or two, pop them onto a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil. Toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. If desired, use other spices, too.

4. Place the baking sheet in a preheated 350 degree F. oven. Check the seeds every few minutes until they are golden.


Aug 26, 2015

9 Back to School Lunch Hacks

Whether your kids go away to school or they home school with you, a little planning - and a few tricks! - make giving them healthy lunches a whole lot easier.



1. As much as possible, prep on the weekends. Sandwiches are usually best made the day of, but many other things can be prepared and refrigerated ahead of time, including: chopped veggies, chopped fruit, things like cracker and cheese that need portioning out and bagging.

2. Make a salad more fun by putting it on a kebab! Cherry tomatoes, olives, pieces of cheese, pieces of deli meat, and baby spinach or lettuce are perfect.

3. Portion things out yourself. It's almost always less expensive to buy in bulk and package in inexpensive bags, rather than buying boxes full of portion-sized bags.

4. Add a little air. Bagging up something that might turn into crumbs, like chips, cookies, or pretzels? Take a tip from food packagers and add air to the bag. This works best if you're packing lunch the evening before school or the morning the child will be eating the lunch.

5. Give them last night's leftovers. Not only will it save you time, but it will help prevent waste.

6. Bake lunch items like muffins ahead of time and freeze them. Pop them into your child's lunch the evening or morning before they will be eaten and they'll be thawed by lunch time.

7. No-brown sliced apples are easier than you think. Simply slice up the apple, holding the pieces carefully together, then wrap a rubber band around the apple. (The slices don't brown because they aren't exposed to air.)

8. Consider letting the kids pack their lunch. Let the children pick which items go in their lunch box the night before. (Don't think they'll make healthy choices? Let them only choose from certain foods.) You'll probably have to supervise to make sure it gets done! Kids are more likely to eat their food if they have a hand in preparing/choosing it - and it this encourages independence, too. For more tips on making this work, visit Coffee Cups and Crayons.

9. Notes or jokes are an addition to the lunch box most kids will look forward to. Bible verses are excellent, too!

Aug 24, 2015

Healthy Dinner Strategies for Busy Moms

If you're a mom with kids at home, you're busy. And many of us find ourselves even busier (and more tired!) than usual once the school year starts. That makes feeding our families healthy food a real challenge. And while modern moms have more unhealthy food options than ever - we also have more options when it comes to feeding our families healthy, quick meals.


Crock Pots

I have a love/hate relationship with my crock pot. I love that I can throw some ingredients into it in the morning and have a healthy dinner ready for my family by evening - no matter how busy I am. And if I plan ahead just a little, I can even prep the ingredients ahead of time, toss them into the freezer, and literally spend less than a minute making dinner on weekdays.

What I don't care for is the somewhat bland flavor many crock pot recipes have. Fortunately, there are fixes for that; click here to learn how to pump up the flavor of crock pot foods. Another not so great part of crock pot cooking is that so many recipes you find online are contain processed food (condensed soup, Ranch mixes, and so on). Sometimes you can easily substitute homemade versions of those processed foods, other times not. Happily, though, you can turn your favorite non-crock pot recipes into recipes you can use in a slow cooker. Also, check out this blog for healthy crock pot recipes...and my Pinterest Slow Cooker board, too.


Freezer Cooking

You may have seen blog posts showing ambitious moms cooking and freezing 30 days worth of meals in one weekend. If you can do that, good for you! I can never seem to get my act together to make this many freezer meals. But that doesn't mean freezer cooking isn't for me.

Courtesy of Elin B and Wikipedia Commons.
The easiest way to start freezer cooking is to double meals and freeze the extras. An even easier way is to simply cook up, say, all the ground beef soon after bringing it home from the store. Freeze it and you've just cut at least 10 minutes off each meal you prepare with it later in the month.

Other ideas include starting modestly by cooking and freezing a week's worth of dinners on a Saturday. Premeditated Leftovers also has ideas on spending just 30 minutes each day to fill your freezer with cooked food. For freezer-appropriate recipes and guidelines for beginners, be sure to check out my Freezer Cooking Pinterest board.


Pressure Cookers


For some reason, pressure cookers aren't mainstream in the United States. I really have no idea why, because they are such a quick, easy way to produce a healthy meal. For example, you can cook a moist, delicious whole chicken in just half an hour! Unsoaked black beans? 24 minutes. (If you soak them first, they take just 6 minutes.) Brown rice? 20 minutes. And you can cook whole meals, too, usually for 20-30 minutes. And unlike stove top cooking, pressure cooking takes less work on your part. You just stick in the ingredients, watch for the pressure to reach the right level, and then set the timer. In short, cooking time is cut by 1/3, saves 70 - 90% in energy, and retains 90% of the vitamins in your food! (Source.)

One word of caution, though: Don't confuse pressure cookers with pressure canners. Pressure canners are designed specifically for home canning. Sometimes they are appropriate for cooking, too, but not always. Pressure cookers are designed specifically for cooking. Do NOT use them for canning! I use my Presto canner as a pressure cooker; my only complaint is that because it has such a large capacity, it's difficult to get into the sink for cleaning. On the other hand electronic pressure cookers are favored by many because you don't have to tend to them at all: Just put the food in, turn them on, and walk away.

Not sure where to begin with pressure cooking? Check out my Pinterest Pressure Cooker board!


Which One Is Right For You?

Personally, I don't know what I'd do without all of these strategies! When my family grows tired of crock pot food, I can pop something in the pressure cooker. If I'm too tired for that at the end of the day, I can pull something out of the freezer. You see, having all these options available to me means I don't have to be hyper organized. And that is a very good thing!


Aug 13, 2015

My Crazy Life...and Back to School

The give away pile.
Has anyone ever told you I'm crazy? They were right, you know. Or at least, that's how I feel this week. You see, I've started packing. We have some repairs to make on our house, and we need to have our stuff out of the way before we can start on them. Our little hauling trailer is empty now (the first load of things is already in our shipping container) and soon the shipping container will be insulated and completely ready to be filled with furniture, family photos, books, and yes, even my piano. But I'm doing the packing alone - in my spare time (ahem). Time is a little critical here (gotta get it done before the rainy season). So I'm feeling a weeeee bit stressed.

Because in addition to packing and working on and off for clients, I'm prepping for school. My daughter is begging to start, but I'm not quite ready yet. This year of homeschool will be my most complicated ever, since my son is starting kindergarten and 1) it will be the first time I've really taught two grades at once (to my way of thinking, preschool is so easy, it doesn't count) and 2) I'm working hard to make kindergarten as interesting as possible for my son, who is an unwilling school kid. So there's that.

Plus, I'm preparing for a birthday party. Every year, my husband and daughter share a party, and most of our local family comes. As it happens, this is also the year my daughter turns a decade old, so it feels like a bigger deal than usual. So as I pack, work, and prep for homeschool, I'm also working up games (like a bean bag toss, pin the tail game, and pinata). The good news is, my daughter wants to help with everything. Finally, her "I want to do it myself" attitude is paying off!

At any rate, you can see that all this doesn't leave much time for blogging. So today, I just want to point you to some archived posts about getting the kids back to school. I hope they help you!

* Back to School Breakfast Ideas - Quick, healthy ways to get your kids off to a great start each day.

* Back to School = I Love My Crockpot - Make school time easier by making good use of your slow cooker.

* Age Appropriate Chores for Kids - Back to school time is an ideal time to set up or revise chore charts!

* Sleep Deprivation: The Childhood "Epidemic" - Poor sleep means poor learning; here's how to help your child sleep better.

* 5 Safety Rules for Every Kid - School time often means more time away from mom and dad. Be sure your kids know these important safety tips.

* Why Homeschool Preschool? - Why I, and so many others, choose to homeschool during the preschool years.

* Homeschool Preschool: Thoughts on Readiness - How do you know when your child is ready to learn?

* Letter of the Week Activities - Easy crafts to help toddlers and preschoolers learn their letters and the sounds they make.

* Activities to go with The Little House on the Prairie Books - This series has been a real blessing in our house. If you're considering reading it to your children, consider some of these easy "go-withs."

* Keeping Toddlers Busy While Homeschooling - Tips from a mom who's been there!

* 10 Ways to Save Money on School Supplies - In case you missed it.


Aug 5, 2015

Processed Food: Are You Eating it Without Knowing It?

Recently, I've bumped into a handful of people who've made me realize that not everyone understands what processed food is. Since even the most conservative health experts agree that processed food is bad for us - and since many believe that processed food is the number one cause for ill health in the United States - let's examine the issue a little.


I know one woman - I'll call her Linda, though that's not her real name - who's fond of posting photos of her meals - and her grocery shopping goods - on social media. She considers herself a coupon queen, and is devoted to staying home to raise her children; her bargain hunting is all about making it possible to live on her husband's salary alone. However, Linda also often complains about her health. Although she's only in her mid 30s, her body often aches. She's usually exhausted. She has heart palpitations and other life-altering health issues. Tell her she eats processed food and she scoffs. To her, processed food is something from a fast food chain, or "junk food," like chips and candy.

Jane (again, not her real name) suffers from hidradentis supparativa (HS), a condition that causes many painful boils in the most private areas of her body. Doctors don't understand this condition very well, but it's been proven that HS can go into remission if patients eat a whole food, autoimmune diet. In an online group for those who suffer from HS, Jane got excited when someone popped into the group trying to sell food that could "help cure" HS. The food was in boxes and plastic bags.

James (also not his real name) considers himself a healthy eater. If someone offers him a doughnut for breakfast, he makes a big deal of saying "no thank you." He'd rather eat organic cereal, thank you.

All of these people are real. And all of them have no clue what processed food is.


Is cereal really healthy?
So What Is Processed Food?

Processed food is anything that has been manipulated from it's natural state. It's the opposite of whole foods like apples, wheat berries, or whole squash. For example, if you buy pre-sliced apples, chopped squash, or wheat flour - these are all processed food. But what most experts mean when they talk about processed food is food that has been changed chemically, or has chemicals added to it.

Much of the food in the average American grocery store is this type of processed food. The organic cereal James loves, for example, is chemically processed with many additives and preservatives. The food that Jane thinks will cure her HS is also processed: Boxed meals that only require the addition of water, canned soups with preservatives and other chemicals, and meal replacement bars. And the food Linda buys so inexpensively for her family? Mostly boxed meals, laden not just with GMO ingredients, but with many chemicals used to artificially flavor, color, and preserve the food.


Frozen vs. Canned
Frozen salmon label.


I was on Pinterest the other day, and saw a pin claiming that frozen foods were healthier than canned because they don't have added ingredients. But the fact is, many frozen foods do have added ingredients. For example, I cannot buy frozen fish locally, because the only brands available to me have added chemicals designed to make the fish look fresher and last longer.

Canned foods are about the same. Sometimes I can find them without added ingredients, but mostly I can't. (Another good reason to can your own food.) Salt is the most commonly added ingredient, and experts used to think that if you ate little to no processed food, this wouldn't be a health problem...but now we know  processed salt (anything other than sea salt) is directly linked to autoimmune disorders.

But don't think that just because you're in the refrigerated section or the produce aisle you won't encounter processed foods. Sadly, this just isn't true.


Macaroni and cheese label.
Labels

To really know whether or not you're eating processed food, you must read every single label. Every. Single. One. If you start doing this, you'll discover a shocking number of foods that many people think are healthy are actually highly processed.

Usually, anything with an ingredient list is processed. The longer the ingredient list, the most processed the food typically is.


Ingredients

I do still buy some processed foods for my family (like catchup and milk) - but I choose carefully. Here are the ingredients I refuse to compromise on:

1. High fructose corn syrup. This is used as a cheap sweetener in most processed foods. However, it's made from GMO corn, and is linked to obesity and whole body inflammation, the precursor to all disease.

2. Bad-for-you fats. Last year, I was diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The cause? My
Diet bar label.
genes - and eating bad-for-me fats. I grew up on margarine and Crisco and vegetable oil. All the wrong things. When thinking in terms of fats, think about what is processed the least: Real butter (especially grass fed, if you can afford it), extra virgin olive oil, and extra virgin coconut oil.

3. GMO ingredients. Currently this includes any corn or soy product - both extremely common in processed foods. For more about GMO ingredients and the problem with GMO food, click here.

4. Artificial colors. My daughter is sensitive to them, as many children are, but they aren't good for anyone. They are artificial. That means they aren't real food.

5. Artificial flavorings. Again, this is fake food, laden with innumerable chemicals.

6. Sweeteners other than real honey or cane sugar. Agave is highly processed and high in fructose, corn syrup is GMO and linked to health problems, and artificial sweeteners...well, they're fake food, linked to many health problems. Yes, cane sugar is processed, but my family isn't ready to completely give up sugar (though we don't eat much of it), and at least cane sugar isn't GMO.

Hamburger meal label.
7. Low fat foods. If it's low fat, it's highly processed. This includes low fat milk and milk products. (Actually, and sadly, cow's milk from the grocery store is always highly processed.) The good news is, a growing body of evidence shows that low fat diets are bad for our brains, bad for our bodies. (Nourishing Traditions explains this thoroughly.) It's better to eat natural fats.

8. Processed salt. I've completely switched to no-ingredients-added sea salt, now that other salts are linked to autoimmune disorders.

9. Anything with a long ingredient list or ingredients I don't recognize as real food.


Getting Started with Whole Foods

If you've been eating processed food all your life, chances are the idea of ditching them is overwhelming. My suggestion is to start little by little. Read every food label and stop buying the worst offenders. Slowly learn to make your own foods from scratch. (It doesn't take as much time as you think!) Don't expect to feel better suddenly. It will take time for your body to detox. Eat foods that help your liver function better (dandelion root tea or coffee; dark, leafy greens like dandelions, collards, and kale; radishes; onions; and artichokes). Consider omitting wheat products, linked to "leaky gut." Add some fermented things to your repertoire of foods. In time, you will feel better.



Jul 24, 2015

My Experiment with "Survival Food" - plus a coupon code

It's not uncommon for companies to contact bloggers and offer samples of their products, hoping writers like me will enjoy them and write about them. Most often I decline because the products aren't something I'm personally interested in, or they just aren't appropriate for this blog. But recently, a company that makes freeze dried "survival food" contacted me. I was intrigued. This is not the sort of product I have hanging around. Yet...did you know the U.S. Federal government advises all citizens to have food and water on hand in case of emergency? (In fact, they have an entire website devoted to helping us do this.) So, this time I said yes.

Government Guidelines for Emergency Food

When it comes to food, the government suggests we all have at least a three day supply on hand at all times, in case of natural disasters or similar emergencies. But I'm sure we all remember how hard it was for FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to reach the victims of Katrina with food, water, and shelter; therefore, most experts instead recommend having at least three weeks of food stored for emergencies. (And hey, this would make feeding your family easier, too, since you could dip into your stored food when you can't run to the grocery store, or money is short at the end of the month.)

The most common way to build up an emergency supply of food is simply to buy extra of shelf stable foods you're already purchasing. These foods generally last at least a year in your pantry, but you should still eat and replace them regularly. If the idea of rotating food seems like a pain, or if you just want some light weight food you could easily take along in an evacuation (or while camping), freeze dried food is a good option. 

Valley Vs. The Other Guys

Now, I have tried some freeze dried food before, and let me tell you, the trouble is:
  • It's usually pricey.
  • It can taste really awful. Really. Awful.
  • It can spoil before the manufacturer claims it will.
  • It's usually full of nasty, chemically ingredients. Ugh.
These are some of the reasons I've never bought freeze dried meals for my family. But when Valley Food Storage contacted me about their survival meals in a bag, I was intrigued for several reasons:
  • The owners were inspired to begin their business after buying some supposedly long term freeze dried food that went rancid a few years later. They determined the oils in the food were to blame and thought they could create something better than what was already on the market.
  • Their food has ingredient lists you can read! This is huge! No artificial preservatives, sweeteners, or MSG.
  • Their food is GMO-free. Again, this is huge.
  • They use sea salt, not processed salt, which is linked to autoimmune disorders.
  • There are no trans fats or cholesterol in their food.
  • They have gluten-free options, which is a big deal since so many freeze dried foods contain pasta or other wheat products. They also have dairy-free options.
  • Each bag is sealed in a hefty Mylar bag - the air removed with nitrogen.

The first meal I tried was Irish Pub Cheddar Potato Soup. It, like all of the samples Valley Food Storage sent me, was packaged in a tough Mylar bag. The ingredient list was easy to read, as was the nutritional information and cooking instructions. Following those instructions, I measured out several cups of water, added the contents of the bag (I had to cut the bag open; the packaging was too tough for me to tear), and let it boil gently. The instructions didn't say to stir the mixture, but I did stir it periodically to prevent it from sticking to the pan. In 20 minutes, the cooking time was up and I removed the mixture from the pan. It didn't look at all like the photo of the food on the website. But that was about to change.


The finished soup, without my green onion garnish.
Next, I let the food sit in the pan for seven minutes, as instructed on the packaging. Actually, I let it sit longer than that, because my husband was late for dinner. But by the time I spooned the soup into bowls and served it, it was thick and delicious-looking, just like on the Valley Food Storage website. To add some extra appeal, I grabbed some green onions (scallions) I had in the garden, chopped them, and sprinkled them on top.

And how did it taste? It didn't taste chemically or overly salty, like so many freeze dried foods. It didn't taste like boxed grocery store food, even. It actually tasted home made! We were really impressed and both my husband and I agree that we'd eat that meal any time.

The finished soup with my green onion garnish.
My only (small) gripe? The package said it contained five servings, but if you're eating the soup by itself, with nothing else, I think it will feed about 3 people with modest appetites. But then again, because of all the cheese and potatoes in this meal, it's fairly high calorie (perhaps a good thing in an emergency situation). It was also extremely filling.

Yum!

We also ate other Valley Food Storage offerings, and thought they were excellent, too...All rather a shock to me, since I thought I was agreeing to try food that would be something I'd only want to eat if I was starving.

And I don't think their prices are bad, either. For example, a 30 day supply of food is $1.87 per serving (although, again, those servings might be smallish). A single packet of Irish Pub Cheddar Potato Soup is $11.95; that may seem like a lot, but it's not a bad price for a freeze dried meal. Even the cheap, chemical laden, yucky tasting types sold for camping cost at least that, and often more.

So, if you're considering buying freeze dried food for emergencies, I highly recommend Valley Food Storage's stuff. Currently, you can visit their website and request a free sample.

You can also get 10% off anything on their site by using the coupon code Proverbs 31.

Be sure to check back in with me and tell us all what you think!

Jun 15, 2015

Trick for Re-Using Canning Jar Lids

This weekend, I opened a cabinet door and a box of cocoa came flying out. Does that ever happen to you? Sometimes I think the food is trying to run for it''s life. Anyway, the box landed on the counter, popped open, and cocoa went flying all over the kitchen. On the counter, on the stove, in the stove grills, on the sink, on the floor, on the floor mat....I felt like I was cleaning up after a toddler again. Fun.

Turns out, temperature fluctuations in the kitchen had caused the plastic lid on the cocoa box to relax. The lid no longer fit the container. When I was done cleaning cocoa off everything, I put what cocoa was still in the container in a canning jar for fresher - and safer! - keeping. But I'm a busy mom - plus I'm nearing menopause - so I knew I'd forget what was in the jar...unless I labeled it.

It's not uncommon for me to put homemade condiments or store bought stuff that takes up too much room in a box in a canning jar. And, like I said, it's always best to label them or my hair-brain will never know what's inside. (Sweetened cocoa? Unsweetened? Who knows!) Since I'm frugal, I don't like to use new, unused canning lids for this purpose. Instead, I use canning lids that have come off home canned goods. I run them through the dishwasher, and they are perfect for storage purposes.

I don't like to keep a ton of them around, though, or they get in my way. (If food flies out of my cupboards, imagine what would happen with a drawer full of used canning lids!) So I keep only a handful. And I've found an easy way to remove the writing from these lids, so I can neatly and easily write on them again:

Rubbing alcohol.

Just dip a Q-tip (or the corner of a towel) in some rubbing alcohol and rub it over the pen markings on the lid.

They come right off. The lid dries in a few moments, and you can write on it again.


Easy! And when you're a harried mom with food flying out of the cupboards, easy is very, very good.


Mar 4, 2015

Storing Food Without Plastic

I've not been quick to jump on the anti-BPA bandwagon, but it does seem more and more damning evidence is linked not just to BPA, but to other chemicals in plastic (including those touted as safe alternatives to BPA). One of the more interesting observations is that males seem more susceptible to hormone disruption caused by plastic than females; since boys are far more likely to develop autism than girls, researchers wonder if plastic could be a reason for autism. And did I mention that plastics - which are found not just in plastic bags, bottles, and boxes, but also in the lining for commercially canned foods - are also linked to hyperactivity in children?

So I've been thinking a lot about just how much plastic our food is exposed to. A mother could drive herself crazy trying to rid her family's exposure to plastic, pesticides, and other chemicals. (As a wise friend of mine says, there is no perfect food in a fallen world.) But here are some easy ways to avoid plastic - and save some money, too.

In the Refrigerator:

* Use canning jars. These work really well for stock, soup, stew, salads, etc. Short, fat jars work for storing partially used fruits and veggies. (I keep a few used canning jar lids around to use for purposes such as this, but you could buy new ones if you don't can. It's also fine to reuse glass jars from store bought food.) (UPDATE 02/05/2015: My husband read this post and said, "But there's plastic in canning jar lids." I replied that while this is true, I'm assuming the food won't touch the plastic on the lid. He pointed out that offgassing of plastics is a concern. He's right. See, a Mom could go crazy!)

A plate set over a plate or bowl protects food in the fridge.
* Put leftovers in non-plastic bowls (or the platters or dishes that they were served on) and cover them with a plate, instead of plastic wrap. This works best if the bowl or other container has raised sides. You can also put one plate on top of another plate. And yes, the food keeps just as long in the fridge as it would in a container with an air tight lid.

* Invest in some casserole dishes with glass lids. Use these instead of Tupperware. Bonus: You can cook with them, too.
Casserole dishes with glass lids are excellent for storing leftovers.
* Keep foods in non-plastic bowls, and use homemade fabric covers. Here's a nice example of using cotton covered in beeswax. You could also add elastic to the edges, to make round, shower cap style coverings, like this. If you're not the crafty type, similar items are available on Etsy.

* Notice I didn't mention glass refrigerator containers? They have plastic lids. Plus, they tend to be pricey. And as you can see, they aren't necessary.


In the Freezer:

Liquids store exceptionally well in glass jars.
 * Use canning jars for storing liquids or partial liquid foods. However, ONLY use canning lids without shoulders; they should be straight from the opening all the way to the bottom. Be sure to leave room for the contents to expand during freezing, also. (If you leave about 1 inch of space from the opening of the jar to the food, you should be fine.)

* Use cleaned milk or juice cartons for freezing liquids. You'll need freezer tape to seal the containers. (Yes, there is some plastic in these containers, but they are lined so the plastic doesn't come into contact with contents of the carton.)

* Wrap foods in heavy duty foil. A double layer works best. Or first wrap in foil, then in butcher paper.

* Use butcher paper. In the old days, butcher paper wrapped items weren't first wrapped in plastic or foil. This method works best, however, if the food is already frozen, so consider placing whatever you're freezing on a rimmed baking sheet in the freezer; when it's hard, wrap it in the paper.
When freezing food in glass jars, be sure to choose jars without a shoulder.

Jan 26, 2015

Why You Shouldn't Use Teflon Cookware

I can't tell you how long it's been since I used a Teflon pan. At least a decade. I have stainless steel pots and pans, plus a few cast iron skillets and a cast iron Dutch oven. They work great! But I confess I've grown tired of cooking one pancake at a time, with my children eating them faster than I can cook them. So recently, I decided I should buy a large griddle. Thinking ahead to living in our tiny house motor home, I thought it would be smart to buy an electric griddle with high sides - that way I could use it to cook more things, thereby reducing the need for certain other pans. But it didn't take long for me to realize this type of griddle isn't available without a Teflon coating. In fact, I could only find one electric griddle that wasn't Teflon-coated - and it has rotten reviews. Oh, how I wish they still made electric cast iron griddles!*

When I mentioned my plight on my personal Facebook page, one of my friends wondered why I was going to such great lengths to avoid Teflon. This made me realize that many people are not yet be aware of the dangers of this common cooking product. Hence this post.

Toxic Gasses

Heated Teflon releases 15 toxic gases. Which ones escape depend upon the temperature the pan reaches, but the outgassing begins at 396 degrees F. 

The manufacturers of Teflon already recommend that birds owners don't use Teflon cookware anywhere near birds. Why? Because Teflon's toxic outgassing frequently kills birds. But guess what? There is a name for when the outgassing affects humans, too: "Teflon flu." In fact, experts say most people confuse Teflon flu with...the flu. The symptoms are the same and go away after a time.

But it Gets Worse

In 2005, the EPA announced most humans - and probably wildlife - hada man-made chemical called PFOA in their bloodstream. According to Toxicologist Tim Kropp, PhD, "It would take your body two decades to get rid of 95% of it, assuming you are not exposed to any more. But you are."

Manufacturers claimed PFOA was only used to make Teflon and should not be on or in the finished product. But studies show that Teflon cookware does emit PFOA when heated to 446 degrees F or more.

Now, you might think: "I'd never cook anything at that temperature!" But it takes only 2 minutes for a Teflon pan to reach this temperature. If you accidentally burn something in the pan, or leave the pan, forgotten, on a hot stove, the pan will likely begin emitting toxic gas. In addition, stove drip pans may be Teflon coated, and can reach dangerous temperatures, also.

Health Hazard

PFOA is known to cause cancer, liver damage, growth defects, birth defects, and more in lab animals, according to WebMD. It's also known to cause birth defects in women working in or living near Teflon plants - and might also be linked to high cholesterol. And in 2005, the EPA named Teflon a likely human carcinogen.

Other products contain Teflon chemicals, including clothing, carpets, furniture (most anything water or stain resistant) - even the tape that seals your water pipes. These items aren't normally heated, so toxic gas isn't a concern. (Except Teflon irons. Ugh!) But PFOA does not break down, so whatever we put into the environment isn't going away any time soon.

Manufacturers of Teflon have until this year - 2015 - to remedy Teflon's problem. Manufacturers say their Teflon products no longer contain PFOA - but what about all the other outgassing? And since the inventor and patent holder of Teflon (DuPont) apparently knew about the dangers of Teflon before anyone else did, do you trust them? I don't.

And that's why I won't be buying any Teflon cookware.


* In case you're curious: I do know about non-electric cast iron griddles, but I'm not sure one will work with our motor home's small, three-burner stove. And I do know about ceramic griddles - but in my experience they don't work well after just a couple of uses.