Month: March 2014

Grilled Chicken Salad

20140331-181741

Marinate Chicken breasts all day in lemon juice, olive oil infused with garlic and Italian herbs and plenty of fresh cracked pepper.

Grill for 7 minutes each side and slice while still warm, serve over a bed of fresh greens with sliced pears and cucumbers, chopped tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, drizzled and tossed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and fresh Italian herbs.

Delicious when served with hot crusty bread.

Heaven on a plate.

Decisions

So I finally came up with decisions for our family this year.

The bulk of our food will come from either Flying Plow Farm, or Stoney Run Farm, both located in Rising Sun, MD. Both are very close to Kilby Cream, my beloved dairy where I will stop weekly when I go for our food pick up and pick up our milk that I love. (glass bottles RULE!)

Eggs will come from either of the farms, since they all have chickens… at least until our chickens are laying (hopefully sometime this winter)…

My plan is basically to cook double of just about everything I can throughout the summer (soups, stews, etc) and to put away enough canned and frozen fruits and veggies to stock for the winter this coming year. I *may* need a second freezer just for meat — more details on that in a moment.

I currently have a large chest freezer that was about half full with our cow last year. I keep a 25lb bag of a few different flours in the freezer as well since I cannot guarantee how dry they stay anywhere else (or bug free! working on that too..)

We plan on buying a pig this year, curing our own hams and bacon (without nitrates/nitrites), buying another cow, and hoping to cut our food bill down for the winter season.

The CSAs we are doing provide between 22 and 26 weeks of food, meaning I have an additional 26-30 weeks to think about. When the next slaughters take place, I will be taking inventory of cuts of meat and being a little more able to plan out meals for the off months.

I am working on re-organizing the basement shelves in order to store enough food for the season, which as close as I can figure involves the following list to be a “well stocked pantry”:

24 quart jars of marinara sauce
16 quart jars of diced tomatoes
10 pint jars of Apple Butter
12 pint jars of carrots
12 pint jars of beets
12 pint jars of green beans
12 quart jars of apple sauce
5 pint jars pickles
4 pint jars strawberry preserves
4 pint jars raspberry jam
6 quart jars of pumpkin puree
12 quart jars of zucchini
12 pint jars of peas
8 quart jars of apple pie filling
8 quart jars of berry pie filling
12 quart jars of peaches
12 quart jars of potatoes
12 quart jars of sweet potatoes

The freezer will also need to be stocked for 26-30 weeks:
10 lbs corn
10 lbs peas
10 lbs broccoli
10 lbs carrots
10 lbs raspberries
15 lbs strawberries
8 lbs peaches
10 lbs celery

Dry storage will need to have:
30 lbs potatoes
30 lbs onions
15 bulbs garlic
pasta
rice
alternative grains
flour
oats
dried beans, peas

I’m kind of having fun planning this all out, and will definitely update as I make progress, change plans, get more of a certain crop, or get myself organized 🙂

Fresh Mozzarella Salad

20140330-141553.jpg

1 large Tomato, chopped
1/2 Red Onion, chopped
6 oz cubed fresh mozzarella
1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped

Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
Fresh Italian Herbs
Fresh Lemon Juice

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, chill for an hour. Serve over bed of fresh spinach.

Menu plan- 3/28-4/4, alternate food options for this year

So this week I am trying to refrain from doing any extraneous shopping. I have spent a total of 792$ on food this month, and I would really like to stick to my budget the first month I try!

*disclaimer, I will not “do without”, so I may wind up at a store before the end of the week too… I’m not ruling that out entirely, just trying to use up what is in the house before starting a new month.*

Saturday 3/29: Bacon and Waffles with Strawberries, Leftovers, Lemon Pepper Chicken with Mozzarella and Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Sunday 3/30: Banana Muffins, Leftovers, Pizza (kids have sitter)

Monday 3/31: Sausage and Eggs, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Veggie Stew

Tuesday 4/1: Oatmeal, Fried Rice, Lasagna with Salad

Wednesday 4/2: Cereal, Grilled Cheese, Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwiches with Quinoa

Thursday 4/3: Pear Muffins, Grilled Chicken Salad, Chili

Friday 4/4: Smoothies, Quesadillas, Ham & Bean Soup

So that’s the line up… so far, I don’t need to purchase anything, and should have more than enough food here to fill in any snack gaps.

After speaking with Friends and Farms as well as Bear Mountain Orchards, I am seriously rethinking the value and quality of the food. While the company has a wonderful mission statement that matches my ideals perfectly, the reality is that I do not wish to support large farms that do not practice organic farming.

I don’t feel like the amount of food I am getting is really any more than I would be getting at Wegman’s, MOM’s, or any place else I shopped.

So here are a few things I am considering: a share at One Straw Farm, a share at Flying Plow Farm, ordering home delivery from Hometown Harvest, or just going back to shopping weekly from BJ’s, Wegmans, Aldi, and Trader Joes. (or a combination)

Option 1: One Straw Farm. They are an organic farm with convenient pick up locations like Boordy’s Vineyard on Thursday evenings… there is live music and a bunch of people that we like to hang out with and soialize with as well. They also have a pick up at MOM’s in Jessup or Timonium, which is convenient because we can also purchase items that we need from there without wasting additional resources for an extra trip… One share costs $570 for the entire season from June through November.

Option 2: Flying Plow Farm. They are a certified organic farm with AMAZING farming practices, animal husbandry, and have meat, eggs, and produce available. Their season costs $700 for the season, with the option to have a pre-packed basket available to you at various pick up spots throughout the week or “market style” pick up from the farm itself. With picking up at the farm, you are free to pick up whatever you may want extra of, as well as having access to all of their U-pick crops (raspberries, strawberries, string beans, flowers, and a few others). You get all you pick, free of charge. The catch is it is an hour drive each way for me… BUT- they are just around the corner from our beloved Kilby Cream, which means I could run in and pick up fresh milk every week from the creamery and skip the delivery fees (also meaning I pay less for milk until the end of the season… something to consider, also, with u-pick being available, I can jar, freeze or can the surplus and therefore at least have some stores leftover for the off season as well.

Option 3: Hometown Harvest. A home delivery service providing organic grocery delivery weekly from local farms. Variety of items, including dairy, meat, poultry, produce, dried beans, grains, tofu, eggs, and more. They are rather expensive for their a la carte items, and only seem to over a “package” deal on bags of veggies a random bag weekly would run me $46, which is a little more than half of what I am paying from Friends and Farms, but only for veggies. I need to look into it a bit further, but I think this is the least favorite of my options.

I really like knowing my farmer, knowing my food, and supporting the actual farms. While convenience is what draws most people to these plans, I don’t NEED food to be convenient, I am not choosing good food OR convenience, I am simply trying to find a better ay to buy what we need while making conscientious choices.

I will probably wind up with a combination… I really enjoyed buying from the genuine food company for meat last year, and I have the space for storing the meat that we use for the year, if I can get enough food from the CSA at Flying Plow to store/freeze enough for the winter season, then that is what I am hoping for.

Ultimately, we would like to get back to the way that people used to eat. They had weekly deliveries for highly perishable foods, and root cellars. They canned and stored goods for the off season, and bought sacks of grains that would last them quite a while. They ate simply, but amazingly.

Trying to figure out how to live well in this economy is mind boggling. I am still very concerned about our society experiencing a collapse in availability of food… driving prices up, and availability down.

CSA week 3.. and updates from the last week.

So this week, I ordered a few extra items (more than usual)… we have been getting our milk from Kilby Cream, which has been really awesome for the last almost 2 years. They deliver to our door, once a week, and then pick up the empty glass jugs from the last week.

AWESOME. I just LOVE milk in a glass Jar. period. It is amazing.

This week, I ordered milk through Friends and Farms since we only go through a gallon of milk in a week, and the eggs from Friends and Farms are actually cheaper, for the exact same eggs. It doesn’t make any sense for me to continue paying deliveries fees weekly if I can get the same quality milk with only one pick up to coordinate.

So this week I spent 26$ above our CSA share of 83… so a total of 109.

Here’s what we got for that:

20140327-193627.jpg

Tomatoes- 2 lbs
Strawberries (frozen)- 2 lbs
Pears- 4 lbs 13 oz
Apples- 2 lbs 5 oz
Oranges- 1 lb 6 oz
Onions- 1 lb 9 oz
Sweet Potatoes- 4 lbs 13 oz
Cucumbers- 2 lbs 9 oz
Broccoli- 2 lbs 11 oz
Pork Shoulder- 2 lbs 4 oz
Loose Sausage- 1b
Eggs- 1 dozen
Chicken Breasts-2 bs 13 oz
Milk- 1 Gallon
Yogurt- 1 qt
Lettuce- 3 head green leaf
Kielbasa- 1 lb
Turkey Sausage Links- 1 b
Romaine- 1 head
Sauerkraut- 2 lbs 6 oz

I’m impressed, if I break down what I would spend elsewhere for the same groceries, of similar quality, I am not disappointed. I did have an issue with the apples we received this week:

20140328-103404.jpg

Here is the problem- no produce from a farm should be bar coded for supermarket sale…. And if they are big enough to be doing that, they certainly don’t need my business… I believe that farmers can only handle so many crops/acres before getting too big and needing to cut corners somewhere, which scares me, and I would rather support my local farms.

Disclaimer- fruit is still better than sugary processed “snacks”… But I don’t choose those for my family anyway, so therein lies my conundrum.

I felt as though the “wool was being pulled over my eyes” so to speak, trusting my CSA to do the vetting of the farming practices, and being the “voice for the community”… as such, I feel no sadness in paying them for a job well done.

ie: I can purchase a full share CSA for produce only from One Straw Farm or Flying Plow Farm, both local to me, with convenient pick up locations that run from June through November… (the growing season here in MD)… a full share means enough produce for a family of 6-8 without having to buy anything from the grocery store. Both of these farms have full shares available for approximately 570. Thats over 24 weeks for 23.75 each week… Friends and Farms (for the vegetarian basket) charges 57-58$ per week. More than double. BUT- they also add in proteins so that your vegetarian basket is complete, and you are able to make full meals. They add a dairy option weekly, and eggs, beans, frozen staples, grains, etc to round out their meal.

I am more than happy to buy from a company who does the research for me, and pay for that research.. a produce farm isn’t going to be also raising livestock, so having an organization that coordinates purchasing from all of these various local farms (produce, meat, dairy, and grain) and then bring it to me for pick up every week is certainly convenient, and I believe that it is important to pay people for a job well done.

That being said, here is the info I got from speaking with some very honest (and really helpful and polite) guys.

From Friends & Farms: the apples were from bear mountain orchards, in PA. All of their apples through the fall and winter season were purchased from Bear Mountain.

From Bear Mountain: they practice IPM methods (integrated pest management) of pest control, but DO spray when they have a huge amount of stink bugs (which don’t have a natural insect predator to introduce). They did not have any info for me as to what they spray since that person won’t be in until Monday. They have only sprayed their trees 3 times in the last year. And they personally spray their orchards, without hazmat suits or any requirements to stay out of them for any period of time. They use mating disrupters (pheromone sprays, blocks, and ties) throughout their 1200 acre orchards, to cut back on insect population all throughout the year so that they don’t have to spray, and if they do, it’s not often, and can be targeted to the specific species.

They also don’t barcode their apples.

Not even 2 minutes after getting off he phone with them, Collin from Friends and Farms called me back to apologize for the mix up, and told me that earlier this season, a shipment of apples had been lost due to a truck problem, and that they had purchased a basket of apples from Washington State. They had sat in their cold storage until now, when I called to inform them I got apples with stickers on them. The apples had been purchased to make sure that they wouldn’t run out for their customers, and he said that they tried everything to get more local apples, and succeeded, this was just the back up, back up plan, and after apologizing, offered to put some extra apples into my basket for next week 🙂

I am completely satisfied, while I would always prefer local to mass produced, I’m still iffy as to whether I’m willing to pay 1.55/lb for local apples if they have been sprayed (even though I wash and double wash, I have been paying 1.69/lb for organic for years by buying at BJs, Aldi, or Wegmans.

Hometown harvest is another option I am now looking into for produce only, that is a year round CSA to provide our fruits and veggies, while I could continue with Friends and Farms for their protein bag option and only get meats, dairy, eggs, etc from them.

Hometown harvest is 100% certified organic (!) and local (all farms are sourced on the site). However, their prices are significantly higher, and when comparing to organic grocery store prices, even higher still.

The issue I have with that, is that organic should be cheaper directly from the farmer, not more expensive, and on the flip side, farmers who care about what they are eating and putting in their own bodies and water system would be using organic farming practices, regardless of going through the costly certification cost.

This makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be investigating better ways to do things. I bought a cow last year.. that has provided us with beef for the year. I am thinking of doing price comparaisons for getting meat from the geniune food company CSA. There are a few other grass fed/pastured meat farms that are local to me, that I was thinking about looking into too.

My goal is to get better quality food, cheaper than what we are spending now. I will not sacrifice quality for price Period. Understanding that in the winter months (generally November through May), I will either be depending on a root cellar, things that I have canned or frozen myself, or perhaps purchasing an additional share at a CSA during growing season to freeze, I need to do some cost analysis break down.

We are getting chickens too, so that will definitely cut down on the cost of eggs every week, and we are thinking about getting goats… I need to do a cost analysis of both animals to see where it pays off (or if it does, if it is better to purchase milk or eggs from a farmer directly)…

Meal plan coming up, gotta go finish school with the kiddos 🙂

Unconsumerism

I seem to get into a habit of posting in spurts and then not posting for a while- such is life, any time I try to stick to a schedule with anything “fun” for me, it always winds up cast aside… as a family, we seem to do pretty well at keeping schedules for things that are important, like eating on a regular basis, having clean laundry (or no dirty laundry like right now), getting our schoolwork accomplished, and sleeping at regular intervals.

Blogging sometimes falls by the wayside.

Trust me, this all fits in with “unconsumerism” eventually.. I promise 🙂

Let me start with a weekly “time saving tip” that I promised… it ties together, bear with me.

Washing Produce. There are many MANY websites showing you how to wash fruits and veggies, which ones to store together, what to wash immediately, what to wash later, what to store in the fridge, what to store on the counter etc…

Here’s my time-saver. Wash EVERYTHING upon bringing it home.

I find myself less motivated to eat a fresh piece of produce if it requires extra effort beyond actually chewing it. I don’t know why, since it takes about the same amount of time to grab an apple and wash it as it does to wash your hands, but that is beside the point.

My reasons are two-fold: 1) The produce is READY to consume, chop and cook, grab and eat fresh, chop into a salad (and who really wants to rinse and then pat dry and have wet stuff in a salad), etc… its ready! (side benefit is your storage containers (fridge, baskets, bowls etc) stay cleaner longer and leaves you with less work. 2) It takes less resources to wash everything at once. Water, vinegar, towels, time, and ultimately dish detergent and frustration cleaning out nasty baskets on your counter 😉

So I start by filling up my largest pot with cold water and add ice to it to keep it REALLY cold, then fill up my kitchen sink (since it’s one bowl, if you had a two bowl sink, you could simply fill the other side with icy cold water) with cold water and a cup of white vinegar. I put everything that is “alike” in the water at the same time, things that came in clamshell packs (usually blueberries, strawberries, grapes, and grape tomatoes) stay in them and I weight the whole lot down with a cooling rack set gently on top. I swish everything around a bit and let sit for 20 minutes. I wash lettuce upside down by the head, and then loose leaves just in the water. While they are soaking, I spot clean the counters and lay out dish towels to dry the produce on after they are washed.

Everything is dipped into the ice bath and laid to dry while I put away the rest of the groceries.

This brings me back to uncomsumerism… If I have fresh, ready to go produce to grab, it gets eaten instead of something less healthy – which means that I don’t need to buy other “ready to go” snacks.. which I am against.

Unconsumerism- basically I feel that advertising is an affront to humanity. Word of mouth is free, and only the products that are truly amazing are worth their price. I have a few rules I like to follow when making any food purchase:
1) If it has a commercial, it is not for you.
2) If you can buy it with a coupon, it is not for you (yes, this even means organic.. half of the “organic” companies are owned by other parent companies that I do not want to support, and the inflated organic prices are going into advertising for the company’s other products)
3) If you cannot pronounce all of the ingredients and know where they came from, it is not for you
4) *closely related to 3* If it has more than 10 ingredients, you guessed it.. it is not for you.
5) If you cannot determine it’s origin, it is not for you

I buy “off brand” or store brand for things I continue to purchase, and there are still a few of them. I currently spend less than $200/month on my things I continue to purchase at a store, Toilet Paper, Oils, Lye, Cereal, Bulk Herbs, Spices, Teas, Flours, Sugar, Butter, alternative milks (coconut/almond), some produce I don’t have stored up, and currently dog food- I have made my own dog food when I can get good quality food inexpensively, so right now, it’s Costco brand grain free dog food for them.

I am making a pact with myself to not shop in any “big box” store any more- first, I’m setting a goal for a month, then hopefully a quarter, and then year… and then it will just be habit. I don’t want to support any business that does not support our local, hardworking citizens.

Right now, for me, that means major restaurant chains (McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy’s, Starbucks, etc), Big Box Stores (Walmart and Target), and all clothing retailers (Old Navy, JC Penny, Gap, Gymboree, Childrens Place, etc)

Making a conscious choice about where we purchase our necessities is tough. It requires thought.

We are also cutting back in other areas. We currently have Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Aereo subscriptions. My prime membership is up in October for Prime, and we are quitting Hulu Plus at the end of this billing cycle… It is a start, we got rid of DirecTV after 10 years just last October, so we really are doing well considering the consumerism mindset we came from.

I am trying to only spend money on things that will make our life better, while also making sure that we aren’t supporting any causes with our income. I am not interested in some big shot sitting in a corporate office pocketing money from me purchasing somethin my family needs, at the cost of their employees being able to make an honest wage… this means that I will be doing my best to no longer purchase any items that are not Made In the US, as well as any “name brand” items.

I’m hoping that between consignment sales and GoodWill, I can stick to my goals.

In order to be accountable, I am going to publicly post my “goals”. I put goals in quotes because they are very loose, and if I have good reason, I will certainly allow some wiggle room

For the remainder of 2014, I would like to spend the following:
~$100 per person on clothing (or less)
~$75 per person on shoes (the only thing I will continue to purchase new)
~$1000 on all 4 children for School Needs
~$750 on Groceries (including dogs and household items) monthly
~$300 per person for their birthday and Christmas.

I have current debt I ill put anything extra per month I manage to save into, that hopefully will be paid off by the end of the year.

Our family is taking two little mini-vacations this year, in May and June, and going camping for multiple family reunions, still trying to maintain our food budget. We also are going to go to the renaissance festival again this year, which we typically budget for and do well sticking to our little budget.

I do not want raise children that succumb to advertising pressure, and gimmicks, setting aside hard work and reward for cheap crap that they are willing to pay hundreds of times what it costs to make, feeding the top 1% of the US, and supporting child and slave labor in other countries…

Updates as I succeed or fail… we shall see.

As Always ~ Keep Smiling