Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chicken in a Basket ... (and some kale seeds)

Our little chickens are so cute and curious. Every time one of us goes to do laundry, the chickens are always right there investigating. The other day I had just emptied the basket to the line and left the basket sit on the ground. One chicken (Brianna could tell you the name) jumped up on the basket and tried to perch. As soon as she landed on the edge, the basket tipped over right on top of her. Of course she started to panic slightly and the others that were near seemed a bit confused. It was very entertaining :) We left her in long enough to grab the camera (less than a minute) and then let her go.

Our kale has finally dried enough to harvest the seeds. Last evening after supper several of us were 'shelling the kale' or whatever you'd call it. Here are a few pictures of the kale pods and seeds. We have thousands and thousands of seeds now :) all set for the next several years I guess. Of course we'll be giving some away too. For pictures of kale from start to finish, see this post on saving kale seeds.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stocking the pantry and meal planning

I've been asked the same basic questions several times, and they go something like this:

"What's the best way to stock a pantry?" "What items should I include in my pantry?" "What do you do for meal planning?"

First I want to say these are loaded questions! Ask 10 people and you'll get at least a few different ideas from each of them that the others did not share. Also, it greatly depends on the size of your family, how much space you have (both for dry and cold/frozen storage), your ability to pressure and water can, what you like to eat, how frugal and resourceful you are, and more.

It is good to have a specific area designated to food storage. This could be a small room off your kitchen or somewhere in the house, a few shelves in your basement or other room, boxes in your storage area, or whatever. Obviously it will take some planning and creativity if your space is limited and/or your house did not come with an adequate pantry. A few ideas to get your going:

- Used book shelves or shop shelves can be wonderful for pantry storage. If the shelves are deep enough (as is usually the case with shop shelves) tote boxes and other such larger items can be stored without a problem. A large sheet can be attached to the top of the shelves to hide the contents. In this way, the shelves can be pretty much anywhere in your house and not be an eye-sore.
- Baskets, boxes, bags, bins, containers, etc. can be used either in an existing pantry for efficiency, or can be stored elsewhere in the house. 
- If there is a larger bedroom in the house, part of this can be partitioned off and designated to pantry storage. A curtain or large sheet(s) can keep the areas separate.
- A closet could be used for your pantry storage.
- Look around your house; where do you see wasted space? Behind the doors? Under the stairs? Above the washer and dryer? Above the refrigerator? Behind the couch? Under a bench? Under the beds? Above the windows? Space is everywhere just waiting to be used. To avoid having a cluttered look, use a nice piece of fabric or a sheet to hide things.

The ideas are endless ... but if after considering what I wrote above and also brainstorming for more ways to find space you still cannot come up with anything that will work for you, maybe you simply have too much stuff. It is good for all of us to cleanse our houses of items that are unnecessary or unused. Give them to someone in need or sell them and use the money towards pantry shelving, stocking, etc.


Like I said before, exactly what should be contained in a pantry will vary from house to house. We prefer to eat whole foods, cook most foods from scratch, and appreciate eating as frugally as possible, therefore our pantry will look a lot different than someone who uses boxed cake and cookie mixes, convenience foods, frozen dinners, etc. Assuming you too are of the former type, here is a list of what a healthy pantry might have in it:
- A variety of whole grains in 25 or 50lb sacks such as hard red wheat berries, soft white wheat berries, long grain brown rice, millet, oats, rye berries, popcorn, and more.
- A variety of beans and other legumes in 25lb sacks such as lentils, garbanzo beans, black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, etc.
- Some seeds (also in bulk): raw sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, clover seeds.
- Bulk baking items: sugar, spices, baking soda, baking powder, salt, oil, shortening, etc.
- Canned tomatoes, canned tomato paste, canned crushed pineapple, canned salmon, canned tuna
- Lots of pastas
- Bulk fruits (if you do not go through fruit quickly, the refrigerator or freezer would be a better option for your fruits)
- Different kinds of oils - olive, coconut, canola, shortening, ...
- Supplies like gallon and quart size freezer bags, plastic wrap, foil, wax paper, sandwich bags, etc.
- It can contain other non-food items like soaps, shampoos, light bulbs, first aid kits, extension cords, cleaning supplies, ironing board and iron, ...
- Small appliances like our juicer, dehydrator, electric griddle, canning pots, canning jars, and so on.

It is important to keep the pantry clean and organized so you KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE! Ever smelled a rotten potato? Don't lose the potatoes!! Yuck. If you have children, assign one of them to straighten up in the pantry as much as needed for your house. This could be a weekly task or even a daily task, depending on the size of your pantry and/or your family. Also, knowing what you have helps you to use up what needs to be used up before it goes bad. A good deal is only a good deal if you use what you bought!!


The best way to begin stocking your pantry is to look out for good sales at the stores, find a bulk food store &/or discount 'bent and dent' store near you, or join a bulk food buying club or coop (co-op). You can also stock your pantry with canned, dehydrated or frozen produce from your own garden. If gardening is not an option for you, you might consider checking in to a CSA or asking a friend if you can share in their harvest.

Bulk Food Clubs / Coops
Nearly all of our bulk items are purchased from a buying club named Azure Standard. They serve quite a large area from the west (based in Oregon) to a little east of the midwest [WA, OR, CA, ID, UT, MT, WY, CO, ND, SD, NE, IA, NV, AZ, NM, CO, TX, KS, OK, MO, AR, IL, IN, KY, TN ... did I miss anyone?!]. Here is their site for more info: Azure Standard. A quick google search of "bulk buying clubs" or something similar should turn up a few results for your area, but here are two seemingly good resources, -->though I'm not sure how up-to-date they are<--
Coop Distributor Listing
Coop Directory Listing
Both of those links are from the same source ... on the main page there is an explanation about the difference between a food buying club and a coop.

I emailed Azure Standard and they were kind enough to provide a few more bulk food club companies:

Something Better Natural Foods - it seems they deliver to MI, OH, TN, IN, KY, SC, NC, & IL
Neshaminy Valley Natural Foods -  They deliver to MA, CT, NY, NJ, PA, MD, DE, DC, and VA. Did I get all my state abbreviations correct?!
Associated Buyers - Serving ME, NH, VT, MA, CT, RI and "the Hudson River Valley of NY from Poughkeepsie - Albany - Saratoga Springs - Glens Falls."

Discount Stores / Bent & Dents / Bulk food stores
These stores tend to be excellent places to stock up on items like pastas, canned tomatoes, and a lot of 'odds and ends.' One store we like to go to sells cheese for $1.25 a half pound and a fifty pound sack of long grain brown rice for $24. They have all sorts of stuff, so whenever we know we'll be in the area (we live 3 hours away from it) we are sure to have money on hand and room in the vehicle. We also try to bring along a cooler. Many of the packaged items are slightly out of date or are bent or dented in some way. Some are torn open and taped back together. Some are missing labels or a bit soiled on the outside. These stores have order to them, but sometimes you'll pass a few shelves that have a lot of misc. things thrown on them ... so you must be patient in looking for things you might need.

So where do you find a good discount &/or bulk food store near you? If you have an Amish or Mennonite community near by, that's a great place to start. In fact, it's probably the best place to start. Here is a list of a few stores around the U.S. - I hope you find something near you!

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, a farmer offers a certain amount of "shares" to the public. You purchase at least one share and come regularly to pick up your fresh produce. Some CSAs offer discounts if you help with harvesting. These are a good option only if there is one near by and the price is just as good or better than your cheapest options elsewhere.
To see if there is a CSA near you, go to this site and on the right you'll see a map and the option to enter in your own zip code or state.

Coupons, store sales, etc.
Each week the local stores all offer a few good deals ... sometimes one or two really good deals! Be ready to take advantage of such times. Normally stores use these sales to lure you in the door with the hopes that you will buy a whole lot of other things that are not on sale or are even marked up! Don't be fooled! It is a good idea to keep track of prices for a time until you get used to what is a good deal and what is not a good deal. Many years ago when I first began my frugal living journey, I came across a nifty book called the Tightwad Gazette. In this book, Amy Dacyczyn made popular the idea of the price book. For lack of interest and time in trying to reinvent the wheel, here is an article that explains the price book well enough. After keeping a price book for a while, you will begin to see patterns in when things go on sale.

A few more things about store sales: When you know a store has a good deal, stock up!! This is an excellent way to build your pantry and have things you need on hand. If there is more than one grocery store in your town, be sure to visit each one (assuming they are close to each other) and only buy the things you need at each store.

And a quick thought on coupons. Coupons are only a good deal if you already use the item and you cannot find another suitable, cheaper alternative. I understand that once in a while there might be an item you just cannot compromise on. It is for these items only that you should be clipping coupons. Don't waste your time clipping all sorts of coupons you will never use!! And please do not waste your money using a coupon to buy something you would otherwise be fine without. If you do have a few things to use coupons with, try to wait till the item(s) go on sale ... this will boost your savings quite a bit. Once in a great while you can purchase a name-brand item on sale with a coupon and save above the off-brand item, however you must take into consideration how much time you spend looking for coupons and comparing prices. Your time might be better spent buying the off-brand item and using the extra time to clean the house or something.

What about Sam's, Costo and other such places?
If you have frugality in mind, these stores are generally not the best places to shop. I say generally because you will occasionally find a good deal that is better than what you can find elsewhere, however the yearly membership fee cancels out the occasional good deal. Also, these stores tend to carry name brand items only. More often than not, you can find off-brand items for much cheaper or you can find the same name brands much cheaper at a bent-and-dent-type-store as mentioned earlier.

Meal Planning

The most important thing to remember about meal planning is this: Plan your meals around what's on hand and what's on sale, DO NOT plan your shopping trips around what's on your meal plan! I've seen so many waste a lot of money making a meal plan before checking the store ads and the pantry. So, in having said that, the first two (or three) steps to successful meal planning are:

1) Check your pantry, freezer, etc.
2) Check the store ads
and if you have one ...
3) Check your garden

Make a quick list of what's on hand in your pantry, your freezer, your fridge, your garden (if you are well organized, you should already know what's on hand without even checking ... but it does help a lot to browse through what you have for ideas). Make a quick list of what's on sale at the stores. Your meals for the week are going to come from whatever is on both these lists. Do you have a lot of tomatoes and pasta on hand? Make spaghetti or minestrone soup. Do you have a lot of beans on hand? How about a meal with beans over biscuits or cornbread? Or bean soup and fresh bread? Do you have a good supply of baking items? You could have a meal with pancakes and eggs. Maybe you have a whole bunch of canned salmon you got at the bent and dent store? There's a meal with salmon patties or salmon mixed with pasta and vegetables or salmon and rice stir-fry. If you have an abundance of beef in the freezer, plan meals that will use up some of that. Beef stew. Hamburger stew. Grilled hamburgers. Beef and noodles. Lots of chicken? Plan a few chicken meals. Chicken and rice. Chicken soup. Chicken stir-fry. Does the local store have your favorite vegetable on sale? There is a good side dish for a few meals the upcoming week. Or maybe your local store has the frozen, mixed vegetables on sale? If so, stock up!! These are great in quick soups, as a side, in pot-pies, and so on. Maybe it's cooler weather and lettuce from your garden is in abundance? Fresh salads every night should be on the menu. Maybe it's warmer weather and tomatoes from your garden are in full swing? Sliced fresh tomatoes should be an option each night at supper time. Lots of zucchini? Zucchini bread, mock apple pie or crisp, zucchini soup (one of our favorites!), zucchini on pizza, baked zucchini, steamed zucchini ... the list for uses of zucchini very well might be endless. There are even whole cookbooks dedicated to this versatile fruit!

Leftovers are our friends. Be sure to leave a few meals during the week flexible so you can use up the leftovers. Or, use leftovers when packing a lunch. Leftovers can even be eaten for breakfast with oatmeal as a backup if all the leftovers are gone.

Food prep time can be sped up greatly by getting some things ready ahead of time. Some like to cook most of their meals for the week or even for the month in one day and then pull them out of the fridge or freezer whenever they need them. Some prefer to cook a few things ahead. Some prefer to just do everything each day as the meal comes. It's really up to you and what you have time for. There are plenty of ideas on the internet and at the library about cooking in bulk for the week or month.

Cook extra of a few meals each week. These extras can be frozen and used as a quick meal some other time when you are in a hurry.

Another helpful tip is to keep a list of meals and snacks your family likes. This list could be kept in your recipe box, taped inside of a cupboard door, kept in a binder or home journal of some sort, or where you think it will be safe from getting lost.

Set aside part of your morning routine for writing and checking your daily to-do list. Of course the planned meals for the day will be included on this list, but more importantly, you will be listing what items need to be prepared ahead, taken out of the freezer in the morning or the night before, soaked, or whatever.

One final note about planning meals - there are some seasons in life where meal planning is difficult to do. Lack of money, lack of food, or any number of factors can play in to this. Be honest with yourself. Are your meals not getting planned because you honestly cannot plan ahead? Or are they not getting planned because you are lazy or just don't care? If it's that you are lazy or just don't care, I encourage you to commit to planning weekly meals for one month and see how much more efficient your meal times go. No more waiting till the very last minute and then saying, "What's for supper?" Not only does this create a lot of unnecessary stress, but it also wastes money, time and health. Many are tempted to run to the store for a quick, easy meal or worse yet, run to the local fast food joint. As the saying goes, "Fail to plan, plan to fail."

I might add more to this if more ideas come to me. If you see errors, please let me know. I've been having a problem with typing the wrong words and spell check does not pick that up!!!!

Also a disclaimer: I have included many links here to outside sources. I cannot endorse or support all that is contained on their websites. In most cases, I only looked at the page in question and no further. If you know of other helpful resources for the subjects at hand, please share.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Church garden update and more ...

It seems it has been a while since an update on the garden at the church. Here's what's been going on around "the homestead" (haha)...

The beets have been doing really well. We have been thinning them as they grow, using the greens for smoothies and steaming the roots (even if they are tiny) for supper. We all really like beets!!

Our beets from last year are going to seed. It looks a mess right now but hopefully we'll be rewarded with seeds for next year.

I did a post before about our kale ... here is an update on that. This first picture is of the new kale. We use kale in green smoothies and also chopped up small in soup or with tomatoes over rice. A huge bowl of kale cooks down to nearly nothing, so we can put a lot of kale in a main dish. I've heard that kale is the most nutritious dark green leafy veggie you can grow in your garden and (as we know from experience) it's VERY easy to grow. We plan to plant more of it soon.

This is the kale from last year that is going to seed. See how tall it is!! The yellow flowers are nearly gone and lots of seed pods are left.

A close up of the seed pod. I think they will be ready to harvest when the plant dies and the pods start to open.

Here is a picture of our spinach from this year already going to seed. We have so many spinach seeds, we might have to share a few with friends!

The tomatoes here at the church are doing well. Corban has strung the larger plants up and is going to try to do them like some brethren here do it - they prune the plants to one main stem and have it to climb up the string. As the plant grows, they move the string over a bit and I think they bury the bottom??? I'm not sure. We'll keep you posted on progress as we learn and move along.

The strings ...

Our onions are a mess but getting bigger! Corban has been using the thinnings to chop up and put in his homemade bug repellent brew.

And the peas are a mess as well!! But they are producing!


The fruit trees are all doing great. We picked all the fruit but a few on each tree so the trees could concentrate more on growing big and strong. Maybe we'll leave more next year?

A new addition to our little 'homestead' (that word makes me laugh! I wonder how many homesteads consist of a house, a church and a church parking lot?!) ... strawberries. Yum yum. These plants have already produced for the year. They used to belong to a family here at church; Corban dug up several of their 2 year old strawberry plants and now we hope to have some next year a few feet away from our house. We'll see.

And here you see the tea we are growing. To the left is peppermint and to the right is spearmint.The spearmint was transplanted about 3 weeks ago but it seems to be hanging in there. We have lavender in front of the spearmint, but I don't think it's going to make it. And in case anyone was wondering, that's our pastor, David Keeling.

Our chickens are still being well-loved by all who meet them :)

A common scene in our back yard ... brothers fellowshipping and talking with guests. On this particular day, Brianna and I served everyone sandwiches. We stood next to David on the swing to the right with the plate of food and waited for the men to quit talking so they could pray. All the sudden a chicken jumped up over the fence (can you see the fence on the right?), landed on Brianna's arm and helped herself to the sandwiches. Needless to say, it was very funny. Brianna and I ate the two sandwiches with chicken bites in them :) and then we rewarded the chickens with a treat for being so funny.

And a not-so-common scene ... where did THAT come from?! A new family moved to town last week and is keeping their little bike at the church for anyone to use. Hmmm. The 'flying nun' jokes are already sprouting up. I don't plan to use this motorized thing!!!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hilling Potatoes and a few chicken pictures ...

Brian met the boys at the garden last week (or longer?) and shared some of his expert potato-hilling wisdom with them. He used to work in the potato fields in the mountains of Peru :) Corban said that right when Brian got there, he examined the trees till he found what he was looking for - a branch that would serve as a handle for his potato hilling tool. He quickly climbed the tree, chopped down the branch (with a machete I imagine?) and put the tool together. The boys said it works GREAT ... though they are not nearly as good using it yet as Brian is. Here are a few pictures Brian took ...

This has to be the most goofy picture of Tylor I've ever seen ... but it is a great picture of the hilling tool!

Our chickens are all doing well ... happy as ever. Here is a picture of them roosting in their house and a picture of them eating a green smoothie (we sort of spoil them I guess?!).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chicken Tractors and more

The boys were hired a few weeks ago to build a chicken tractor. Corban got a few ideas from our brethren in North Carolina, but then did the rest from there. Here are some pictures of that project. They got paid real good for it ... WOW. Corban was excited that he got good pay for something he enjoyed doing and now he is thinking about building / selling some more. In case anyone does not know what a chicken tractor is (because there was a time when we did not know either!) ... it is basically a movable yard for chickens. Not all of them have little houses with them, but some do.

the back opens up for easy cleaning

Corban has also been busy making bluebird houses (pictured below), wren houses (not pictures) and bird feeders (below). He is figuring out the cost and time spent right now to determine if any or all will be worth trying to sell. He is also still deciding how to finish them off ... stain, paint, or ?

And just for the 'fun' of it, here are two more pictures ... Corban visiting the chicks and Brianna talking to a dear sister in Michigan.