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

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.

Jan 19, 2015

Bread by Hand vs. by Stand Mixer vs. by Bread Machine

Store bought bread is expensive - especially if you're buying "healthy" bread. Worse, almost all brands are packed with unhealthy ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup, GMO soy or corn, azodicarbonamide (a chemical used in yoga mats and other non-food products), food dyes, sucralose, and more. (Real Food Forager has a good article with more reasons why store bought bread isn't healthy.)

Making bread at home, on the other hand, is much healthier - and typically less expensive. But it does take time and energy to create. So as a busy mom, you might ask yourself: What is the best, fastest way to make my family's bread? Entirely by hand? With the help of a stand mixer? Or with a bread machine? Over the years, I've made our bread all of these ways. Here's what I've discovered.




Making Bread Entirely By Hand
My No Fail Bread


For me, making bread by hand is immensely satisfying. Kneading is relaxing, and the entire baking process,  calming. To make bread my hand, first mix the ingredients together, then knead them with your hands. The kneading creates good texture by adding air bubbles and helping to develop the gluten in the bread. (Assuming you're not making gluten-free bread.) Kneading by hand takes about 7 - 8 minutes. Next, leave the dough  in a warm location to rise - usually a half hour or longer. Then "punch down" the dough (literally punch it with your fist, so it deflates). Depending upon the recipe, you may need to repeat the rising process a few times. Then you shape the dough, allow it to rise for a time, and bake it in the oven.

Recipe Recommendation: Here is the very first bread recipe I ever used. It's very easy, and no fail.

Pros:
* Best texture; with a good recipe, the bread is crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and not crumbly. This is the standard by which all other breads are compared.
* Many people find the process relaxing.

Cons:
* This is the most time consuming way to make bread.
* If your house is cool, getting the bread to rise without turning on the oven and putting the dough nearby can be difficult.

Making Bread With Stand Mixer
Homemade pita bread.

With this method, you let the mixer do the mixing and kneading: Put the ingredients in the bowl of the mixer, attach a dough hook, and turn the mixer on. Stand mixer kneading takes about as long as hand kneading. The rest of the steps are the same as if you're making the bread entirely by hand.

Pros:
*Similar in texture to hand made bread, unless you overmix the dough.
* Faster than handmade.
* Some people find this method easier than kneading by hand.

Cons:
* It's important not to overmix the dough, or you'll end up with tough bread.
* If your house is cool, getting the bread to rise without turning on the oven and putting the dough nearby can be difficult. 

Making Bread with a Bread Maker Doing the Mixing and Rising
Homemade garlic bread.

With this method, you dump all the ingredients into a bread maker, which mixes and kneads the dough, then let it rise in the machine, which does a great job of keeping the dough warm. Once the dough is done rising, you punch it down, shape, allow to rise again, and bake in the oven.

Pros:
* A very fast method - you just dump the ingredients in and the machine does the mixing, kneading, and rising.
* Perfect rising - even if your house is cool.
* Can walk away and let the dough sit for hours.

Cons:

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Making Bread with a Bread Maker Doing All the Work
Another bread maker bread.

With this method, you dump all the ingredients into the bread maker and the machine does everything else: Mixing, kneading, rising, and baking.

Recipe Recommendation: Here's a wheat bread recipe that works well in the bread machine.

Pros:
* This is the fastest method - just dump in the ingredients and the machine does everything else.
* An ideal method if you'll be away from the house; requires no babysitting of the dough. You can even make bread overnight.

Cons:
* Bread made entirely in a bread maker just doesn't have the same texture as bread made any of the above ways. It tends to be a bit tougher and more crumbly.
* Often, the size of the loaf means you either get huge sandwiches from it (using two slices), or tiny sandwiches (using one slice, cut in half).
* Personally, my entirely bread machine baked bread often ends up with a fallen top - even though I've used many different machines and recipes. I never have this trouble with other methods.

Conclusion

As you can probably tell, my favorite method is to use the bread machine for mixing, kneading, and rising; then I like to take over with the shaping, the final rise, and the oven baking. I've used this method for everything from sandwich bread to cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, and pizza crust. That said, I sometimes make bread entirely by hand. And sometimes I use a stand mixer. And sometimes I even let the bread machine bake the bread. Having all these options available to me really makes a difference when it comes to the temptation of buying store bought bread! But just so you know I'm keeping it real: Yes, when I'm uber busy or overwhelmed...I buy store bought bread, too

Tip: The best way to slice homemade bread.


Recipes:

Easy, No Fail Bread for Beginners 

No Fail Sandwich Bread

Bread Maker Whole Wheat Sandwich bread with honey

Bread Maker Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread with brown sugar 

No Knead Oat Bread

Pita Bread

From Scratch Biscuits (Made Healthier)

The Best Cinnamon Roll Recipe Ever

Tender, Crowd-Pleasing Dinner Rolls

Jan 12, 2015

11 Ways to Stretch Your Meat Budget

A few days ago, while I was grocery shopping with my family, I asked my husband to fetch some ground
beef. A few minutes later he returned...without the meat. "I didn't know what to choose," he said. Truthfully, I was a little annoyed, but when I headed over to the meat department and looked at the offerings, I, too, ended up walking away without the ground beef. It was just too darn expensive - about $6 a pound...and I was at a discount grocery store!

And it's not just beef. The frozen chicken breasts that for years have been a staple of my cooking and canning have become painful to purchase. Even pork, which has been among the less expensive meats the past several years, has increased in price.

According to American Live Wire, beef is at it's highest price in three decades - supposedly because we are exporting tons of beef to China and Japan. Crazy, right? Slate adds that cattle herds are at 1951 levels, and, of course, our population is considerably bigger now. Drought made feed more scarce - and expensive. Costly feed also explains the increase in the cost of buying chicken and pork. Oh, and did I mention there was an epidemic that killed tons of piglets? And when you consider that food costs in general are on the rise - well, it's enough to make you think you may soon need to feed your family Top Ramen for every meal.

But thinking specifically of meat prices, what's a Proverbs 31 Woman to do? Assuming you don't want to become vegetarians, that you want to avoid more meatless meals, and you can't raise your own meat?


1. Buy a local steer and freeze it.
Yes, this does take some planning, because it will cost several hundred dollars. But it should be much cheaper. (Ours was $2.50 a pound, which is an incredible bargain right now!) It will also be healthier, assuming it's antibiotic- and hormone-free, and possibly grass fed.

2. Look for clearance meat. Not all grocery stores have a clearance section for meat, but check those that do. Frequently. Sometimes this takes a willingness to sort through less than appetizing, gray and old-looking meat, but I can often find something worth buying - and at a greatly reduced price. Just be sure to either eat the meat that same day, or freeze it as soon as you get home.

3. Watch for sales. Look at local store's sales fliers and watch for good deals. When you find an exceptional deal, buy extra and freeze it. Don't fall into the old trap of only buying enough meat for that week; you need to stock up to keep things affordable.

4. When buying larger cuts, like a roast beef, ham, or whole bird, cook it all, but slice off servings and put them on each family member's plate. Don't put the larger cut on the table; in fact, tuck it away in the back of the fridge as soon as possible.

5. Never, ever let a larger cut only suffice for one meal (unless you have a very large family). Make that roast last for several meals. (This doesn't mean you must have the same meal each night. For example, the first night, you could have sliced roast beef. The next night, a stir fry. The following night, a soup. And so on. For ideas on getting many meals out of a ham, click here. For chicken or other foul, click here.)

6. Choose less expensive cuts of meat. Gone are the days when that was ground beef! Instead, look for tough cuts of meat, then cook them "low and slow" - on lower heat for a longer period of time.

7. Make the meat part of the meal smaller, and be sure to include other filling items in the meal, like high fiber veggies or bread.

8. With ground beef, use fillers to make it go farther. Cooked rice, uncooked oatmeal, and cooked lentils are classic choices that blend in easily. (Start with small amounts of filler, for less objection from your family. As time goes on, you can try adding more.) Other good filler choices include barley (cooked); beans (cooked and pureed); bread crumbs (Store bought bread crumbs are full of unhealthy soy; save your health and your wallet by saving stale bread or crumbs in the freezer.); grated veggies (especially zucchini, carrots, and potatoes); pureed veggies (most work fine, but carrots, onions, and  celery are classic; mushrooms are also an excellent choice). For meatloaf, burgers, meatballs, and the like, add an egg or two, along with another filler, like oatmeal.

9. If ground turkey or chicken is less expensive, use a mix of ground beef and ground poultry.

10. Choose dishes where a little meat can go a long way, like stir frys, stews, and soups.

11. Consider bartering with a neighbor who hunts. (Or learn to hunt yourself.)


But in your quest to make meat more affordable, avoid a few things, too:

1. Avoid processed meats. Some discount grocery stores, for example, sell meat that's already marinated or injected. This is a way of charging more for inferior meat - and it's not healthy, either. Usually, those marinades and injections are full of salt, corn syrup, and other unhealthy ingredients. In addition, things like SPAM, or even canned tuna, are usually not a good deal per serving.

2. Avoid Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) as a filler, even though many websites recommend using it as a filler. TVP is made from soy, and soy affects estrogen levels in the body, which is linked to cancer. In addition, unless it's labeled "certified organic," it's a GMO product.


What do you think? Is your family struggling to keep meat on the menu? How do you make your meat budget stretch?

Dec 10, 2014

Why Winter Squash is the Perfect Homestead Food Crop

This year, I've made a concerted effort to try as many different varieties of winter squash as possible - because I believe winter squash is the perfect food to grow on the homestead. I'll tell you why in a moment, but first I want to encourage you to try as many varieties as you can, too. I don't think I've ever met anyone who loved all varieties of winter squash - and many of the more common varieties are not among my favorites. Therefore, I recommend going to local farmer's markets and farm stands to buy and taste new-to-you winter squash. Who knows which ones will be your favorites and a great new addition to your garden? (Most grocery stores don't even begin to cover the very wide array of winter squashes that are available. This guide gives you an idea of the many types of winter squash, but even it is incomplete.)


Now, on to my list of why winter squash is the perfect homestead food crop:

Carnival squash.
1. Winter Squash is Prolific. Most winter squash has pretty high yields. For example, one butternut plant should produce 10 - 20 large squash, depending upon soil and sun conditions. And squash are one of  the easiest plants to grow. Just direct sow the seeds, add water, and watch the plant go wild! Oh, and did I mention that squash leaves shade the soil so you have to water less often? And weeds are naturally suppressed?

2. Winter Squash Is Super Easy to Preserve. While you can dehydrate, freeze, and can winter squash, you don't need to! It will easily last until spring if you keep it in a cool, dry location. Traditionally, that was a root cellar, but if you're not fortunate enough to have one of those, the garage or even just a cool cupboard works just fine.

3. Winter Squash is Nutrient Dense. The exact nutrients and calories in winter squash depends upon the
All winter squashes can be pureed into soup.
variety, but all winter squash are high in nutrients - and very filling. All winter squash are high in antioxidants, vitamins A, B6, and C, and fiber.

4. Winter Squash is Versatile. Winter squash kept the pilgrims alive, inspiring the 17th century poem "We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,/If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon." But while the pilgrims may have grown tired of eating pumpkins and other winter squash, you should not. There are a great many ways to cook it. Our favorite method is to cut it open*, scrape out the stringy part and the seeds, add a dab of butter, and roast at 350 - 400 degrees F. until fork tender. If desired, you can sprinkle a dab of brown sugar over the finished squash. But other methods of cooking abound; try broiling, microwaving, adding to soups and stews, stuffed, or mashing like potatoes. For recipes, check out my Vegetable for Every Season Cookbook.

Roasted winter squash seeds.
5. Winter Squash Seeds Are Edible and Nutritious. Never, ever throw out winter squash seeds! They are rich in Omega 3s, zinc, maganeze, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and fiber. Click here for instructions on how to roast pumpkin and other squash seeds. (You can also sprout winter squash seeds.) We've found the flavor of the seeds mirrors the flavor of the squash, so butternut squash seeds taste different from pumpkin seeds which taste different from sweet meat seeds.

6. Winter Squash Seeds Are Easy to Save. Just remove the seeds, let them dry fully, then store them. It will take only a few seeds for the average family to have plants enough to feed them for another year. Of course, if you save seed from a hybrid winter squash, it's a crapshoot as to whether or not they will sprout and produce decent food. So when you can, choose heirloom varieties for seed saving. (Do remember that if you grow other varieties of squash, or any plants in the cucurbit family, they may cross-pollinate, leaving you with seeds that may not be true to the parent plant. For more on this, click here.)

Roasted winter squash.
7. Winter Squash is Great for Homestead Animals. Many farmers and homesteaders feed their livestock excess winter squash. It saves money on feed costs and is good nutrition for many animals. Traditionally, pumpkin and winter squash seeds were fed to chickens, ducks, sheep, and goats as a de-wormer. (Chickens will eat the seeds whole; for other animals, grind them and mix into feed.) I haven't found scientific proof this works, but it's certainly easy enough to toss the critters some winter squash once or twice a year. In fact, I never compost winter squash; I give any leftovers, the stringy inner stuff, and the seeds to our chickens. They love it!

8. Other Parts of Winter Squash Are Edible. You can eat winter squash flowers, just like you would slightly more traditional zucchini flowers. Wait until you're certain the flower has been fertilized and is starting to grow a squash, then snip it off and cook it. Squash flowers are yummy! The Indians also used to eat winter squash leaves. I confess I haven't tried this - because where I live, squash leaves always end up at least somewhat affected by powdery mildew. (Click here and here for my natural treatments for powdery mildew.) But here is more information on eating the leaves.


* One complaint about winter squash is that some varieties are difficult to cut open. While the tough skin of winter squash is what makes it easy to store for long periods of time, it's true that a kitchen knife is no match against some varieties, like hubbard or sweet meat. The solution is to use a hatchet or sawzall to cut up these varieties. Not interested in doing that? Select winter squash with more tender skins, like butternut and delicata.



Nov 24, 2014

What Groceries to Buy When You're Broke

"Too Tired to Cook" is frugal, especially if you omit the ground beef.
Sometimes, no matter how close you stick to your budget, you end up with too little money at the end of the month. If you keep a well stocked pantry, this usually isn't the end of the world - but, if money has been tight for a while, you might find your pantry lacking, too. This can make it difficult to find cash to feed your family. But if you shop carefully, you'll find some items are definitely more affordable - and stretch further - than others. Here's what I buy when money is tight:

* Brown rice. Unlike white rice, brown rice gives you a good dose of nutrients. It's also fairly cheap and can really stretch a meal. Saute up some veggies, season them, and serve them on a bed of rice. Or serve plain rice as a filling side dish. Or add it (cooked) to a soup. If you're really struggling, go ahead and serve it all by itself. (Been there, done that!) But don't go in for minute-style rice; it's more expensive and most of the nutrients have been removed.

* Dry beans. Not only are dry beans cheap, but they are packed with nutrients, are a decent protein, and are quite filling. Some beans - like lentils - are great "fillers" for other foods, too. For example, you can use lentils with just a little ground beef (or entirely in place of ground beef) in things like enchiladas and casseroles. Other bean ideas include adding them to soups and stews, my "dump it" meal, lentil soup, and my  too tired to cook bean dish. Incidentally, don't be put off beans because they cause - ahem - flatulence. This is easy to combat with dry beans; just change the water frequently when you are rehydrating them. Also, make life a little easier for yourself by soaking at least one package of beans at a time, then freezing the leftovers. For more on using dried beans, click here.

* Flour. If you know how to cook from scratch, you can make all kinds of things with flour - including pancakes, waffles (learn how to freeze them here), bread, biscuits, tortillas, pizza crust, and pasta. I recommend whole wheat flour because, while it's more expensive than white flour, it's also more nutrient dense - and more filling. However, unless you're used to 100% whole wheat products, you'll want to use some white flour mixed into your recipes. I recommend using half - or a wee bit less - of whole wheat flour.

* Pasta. Pasta is relatively cheap and filling. You can make it yourself, but if you're new to from-scratch cooking, you'll probably want to buy it. I recommend whole grain pasta  because it's more filling and nutrient dense - although, granted, more expensive.

* In season vegetables. They are cheaper than veggies that aren't in season. You can learn when veggies are in season from my ebook A Vegetable for Every Season ($2.99), or here. Also consider frozen vegetables.

* Popcorn. The cheapest snack food around is probably popcorn - but only if you don't buy it in microwave bags. Either pop it in a pan on the stove, or use a paper lunch bag to pop it in the microwave.

What groceries do you buy when money is tight?