Meal Plans


….when you have an awesome neighbor with a huge one?

We have a retired neighbor that has a passion for growing fruits and vegetables.  Every year, he plants a massive garden.  It’s just him and his wife, though, they can’t use it all, and they hate seeing it go to waste.  This year, he discovered that our family would always take excess garden-fresh food!  Although he isn’t into organics like we are, he had decided not to use any sprays this year.  I’m not sure what changed his mind, as I know he always used Seven-dust in the past.  In addition, his sister grows corn and his brother grows blueberries, and when gathering for us, he asked about their chemical use.  What a blessing, as it turns out, that none of them used chemicals of any type this year!

In any case, he invited the kids over to do some picking in his garden.

M and A picking blackberries with the neighbor.

M and A picking blackberries with the neighbor.

R was too busy eating a popsicle the neighbor gave her to pick berries at first.

R was too busy eating a popsicle the neighbor gave her to pick berries at first.

JR hunting for the perfectly ripe, not too sour, blackberries.

JR hunting for the perfectly ripe, not too sour, blackberries.

R finally decided to ask me to finish her popsicle so she could join in the fun of picking berries.  It didn't matter if they were ripe, unripe, black, red, or green--they all went straight into her mouth!

R finally decided to ask me to finish her popsicle so she could join in the fun of picking berries. It didn’t matter if they were ripe, unripe, black, red, or green–they all went straight into her mouth!

N decided to jump to the other side to find as many as possible before the other kiddos made it over there.

N decided to jump to the other side to find as many as possible before the other kiddos made it over there.

JR found the blueberry patch, and picked anything that was even remotely ripe.  He loves berries!

JR found the blueberry patch, and picked anything that was even remotely ripe. He loves berries!

The neighbor showing the kiddos his other veggies in the garden, and how to pick the ripe ones.

The neighbor showing the kiddos his other veggies in the garden, and how to pick the ripe ones.

After almost 2 hours of picking, we came home totally loaded with buckets of blackberries, blueberries, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, corn, cucumbers, and green beans.

After almost 2 hours of picking, we came home totally loaded with buckets of blackberries, blueberries, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, corn, cucumbers, and green beans.

We added all this bounty to some of the harvest from our garden, and have been eating like royalty lately (that is, assuming royalty eats veggies!).  I told S on the phone tonight that it really is a blessing that is forcing us to eat healthy.  In his absence, my days are often full of stress and hard labor, and I am exhausted by dinner time.  It is so tempting, far too often, to gather the kiddos into the van and take them to a local diner for dinner.  No cooking, no clean-up afterward, just sit and be served.  Alas, I also hate seeing food go to waste.  With the bounty of fresh food growing in our garden and the bucket loads our neighbor keeps bringing us, it is forcing me to find a little more energy most evenings to make a good dinner.  Buttered sweet corn, steamed green beans, kholrabi hash browns, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, fresh salad, grass-fed beef in some form, blackberry popsicles, blueberry and kefir smoothies…..I admit, I have no guilt about what I’m feeding my family these days!

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WOW, things have been crazy busy around here!!  It seems like I go from one thing to the next.  If it weren’t for the schedule to keep me on track (not that I ever accomplish EVERYTHING on it!), I think I would be completely overwhelmed!  Here is a quick recap of happenings around our household.

  • We are entering our 2nd month of homeschool for the 2010/2011 school year.  We have settled into our groove, minimized our day to ensure the kids have plenty of time to be active, and still get lots of learning accomplished.  Even with the adventures of last month (the roofing situation, the flooded bedroom that required a new ceiling, etc.), some unexpected educational “field trip” opportunities that I jumped at the chance to participate in with the kids, and a number of visitors, we still managed to average about 4 days of school every week.  I LOVE starting school so early, as it really allows us so much more flexibility without getting behind!  JR is doing great in his reading, and he has really surprised me how quickly he has picked up his arithmetic concepts this year.  I can honestly say we have had no real battles, and only a couple of short-lived stubbornness sessions so far.  M is well into learning to read, and it is exciting to see her so eager to learn!  A and N are doing well in their day as well.  Although formal schooling is not involved, both are still being trained to respect their older siblings during their school time, to play quietly, and even to play independently at times. 
  • To take things a step further, we completed potty-training A last month, and then N came down with a bit of an infection in the diaper area.  We wanted to attempt treating without meds for a week before taking him in (it was mild), so we used some homeopathic, natural suggestions we found, and then we let him just run around sans diaper for a week.  Between that and watching A potty-train, he began to express interest.  My neighbor convinced me to go for it, so we did.  Now, I have an almost-potty-trained 19-month-old.  You would never have convinced me it was possible.  Especially when you consider the fact that just 8 months ago, when N was diagnosed with cerebral palsey, we were told to not expect him to walk or potty train before he was about 3 due to the lack of muscle control.  God has truly blessed us through this little boy, and shown time and time again how He can overcome any human diagnosis! 
  • FOOD!  FOOD! and more FOOD!!  We are in the throws of our farm-produce season through our CSA.  I get a huge box-load of assorted fresh produce every week.  On the same day, I also get 2 dozen free-range eggs from the farm, and 6 half-gallon jars of raw milk.  Here is just a sample of what my fridge often looks like: 

    All the drawers are full of produce, the top shelf is full of milk, and the shelf on the door has 2 dozen eggs (which I know you aren't supposed to use for eggs, but I have no other option with the other food at the moment!)

I love how much I am learning through this CSA program.  Oh, and as if that isn’t enough food, starting today, I will also be receiving an additional box-load of “canning” produce to put up for the winter when the fresh produce is no longer available. 

  • Cooking, cooking, and more cooking!  As a direct result of all the food we have been receiving, I have been cooking up a storm trying to use it all.  I have had to get really creative at times, which is way outside of my nature, and I am also learning to be more adventurous as I learn new ways to use foods such as kohlrabi, radicchio, and fennel.  These are foods I would have never had the nerve to purchase in a store, but since I have them, I am forced to use them, and in the process, learning to love new flavors!  Oh, and as a result of my cooking adventures, I will be posting a number of these adventurous, but delicious, recipes we have had recently that resulted in big thumbs-up all around the table!  So look for those soon!
  • We have officially completed our adoption home-study, and are now officially waiting for God to work at this point.  This adoption will be completely different since we have to essentially wait for a birthmother/expectant mother to find us this time, and I have no idea how that will play out.  This part is unchartered territory for us, as we have to rely mainly on God, word-of-mouth, and internet for this adoption.  Nonetheless, we are all so excited and eager to meet the baby that God has in store for us.  Only time will tell.

Well, that pretty well wraps up some of the busy-ness around here lately.  I hope to start posting more again soon, I just have to find the time.  Family and daily responsibilities come first, obviously, but I am slowly accumulating pictures and stories to add when I get the chance.  Have a great day!

Since we joined the CSA here for our produce, I have been preserving a LOT of food.  I have also been doing a lot of experimenting with foods, just to see how things turn out.  Several people have asked me how I do it, so I thought I’d post here.  I will forewarn you though, that I am NO expert at this stuff.  I do it this way based on my limited experience and research of food preserving.   My favorite way to preserve things is to dehydrate them.  The foods last a long time once dried, and I am not taking up valuable freezer space to preserve them!  So here is a quick tutorial of some items I have preserved recently:  

Garlic Scapes:  The stem of the garlic plant is just as edible as the bulb.  While it is still young, it is quite curly and tender, and therefore edible.  Once it begins to mature, it straightens out and becomes to tough to eat.  The flavor is similiar to garlic, but a lot more pungent and strong.  I was warned to used much less of it than of standard garlic in my dishes.  This week, I got more than I could use, so I dehydrated most of it.  

Garlic Scape

  After washing the scape, I simply cut off the lower tip, slice it like a green onion, all the way up to the flower bulb.  S tried the flower (I love having a guy so willing to eat anything!), and said it was relatively tasteless, so I disgard that portion, and dry the sliced stems.  

  

Herbs:  I have been getting a lot of herbs lately–parsley, cilantro, dill, and even some basil.  I primarily use herbs dried as a seasoning in my dishes, so drying is my preferred way to process them.  As soon as I get them in, they are nice and fresh.  I give them a good rinse, pick out any yucky pieces, slice off the lower, thicker stems (they don’t dry evenly with the rest of the plant), and disgard them.   

  I take the top, leafy portion of the plant, and lay them as evenly as possible on the dehydrator tray for drying overnight.  

  Once they are dry, I remove them carefully (they will crumble) and place them in a bowl.  Using my hands (I would use a mortar and pestel if I had one–my hands stink after this!), I just squeeze and crush all the plants and leaves.  The smaller stems get crushed with it.  Any larger or still moist stems that remain get picked out and disgarded.  I then put the crushed herbs into a little, labeled and dated baggie, and stick it the freezer.  Freezing apparently kills off any bug larvae that may remain on the leaves.  It has to be frozen for 24 hours to kill the larvae, but I just store the baggies in the freezer (for now) until I need them to refill my spice jars later.  You could just as easily store them in your pantry or cupboard.  

Green onions:  We love onions, but I can’t use them nearly as fast as get them, so I dry most of them.  I rinse the plant, and pick off any gooey pieces from the bulb.  Then I slice off and disgard any brown stems or tips.  Finally, I slice the green onion stems all the way to where they turn white and join the onion bulb.  The stems then get spread on the dehydrator tray for drying.  

  Next, I slice the roots off the bulbs, give the bulbs a final rinse, and put them in a dish in the fridge.  These could be sliced and dried with the stems, but I use these as my fresh onions in dishes and salads.  It’s a far more manageable amount!  

Other veggies, like squash and zucchini can be rinsed, sliced evenly, and spread on the dehydrator tray for future use in soups.  You could also salt them or marinade them, dry, and eat like chips.

Similiarly, bell pepper can be diced, spread on the tray to dry, and used for future soups and stews.  I love having some of these veggie flavors preserved for dishes on those nights when I am out of the fresh veggies.

Fruits are done like veggies.  They are peeled and/or sliced according to what type of fruit it is.  In the following pic, I dried apricots and cherries.  The apricots get rinsed, sliced into dry-able portions, and sorted into a single layer on the tray.  Cherries are simply sliced in half, pit removed, and layed with the peel down on the tray.  Fruits should be dried until MOST moisture is gone, and it takes on a leathery, chewy texture.  Do not over-dry them.  It really becomes a matter of personal preference, just be aware that the more moisture they contain, the faster they will spoil.

There you have it.  Dehydrating 101!  Have fun!

Shortly after we moved to CO, I signed up for a CSA (community-supported agriculture) produce co-op.  Essentially, with the local farm I selected, you select the size produce basket desired for your family, pay in advance for the whole season, then every week for roughly 28 weeks, they supply you with your share of the farm harvest.  I have heard of these, but had never tried one.  However, we decided it would be a great intro to dealing with the crops on our future farm, as you have to eat whatever is in season.  WOW, was I ever in for a shock!

A one-week supply of veggies.

I selected the “Family Share,” which the website stated was sized for a family of 4.  I figured since our kiddos were so young, it should work perfectly.  The first week, as is common in the late spring, my basket included almost 10 pounds of greens!  There was romaine lettuce, red-leaf lettuce, and spinach running out the whazoo!  It also had some herbs and rhubarb.  I quickly froze up the spinach, dehydrated the herbs, and we ate as much of the lettuce as we could.  Despite our efforts, though, I still had so much green stuff left when the following week’s delivery showed up, that I passed some off to the neighbors. 

Last week, I got a similiar bunch of items, with the addition of some radishes, beets, and green onions.  We did a little better, but by this week’s delivery, I still had several pounds of greens left–which were again offered to appreciative neighbors. 

This week (seen in the picture above), I got about 6 pounds of lettuces and spinach, cilantro, parsley, dill, green onions, spring onions, baby radishes, baby beets, rhubarb, kohlrabi, kale, and English peas.  We spent the evening shelling peas, dehydrating the herbs, and researching recipes for the other stuff.  Geepers, I have never even heard of kohlrabi, and had no clue what to do with the kale!

Shelling peas

Preparing herbs for the dehydrator.

Despite the excessive amounts of green leaves in my house, we are learning so much!  I will definitely plant less green stuff on our farm than originally planned, as it is plentiful.  I am also having to learn how to develop my menus for the week around the produce received for that week.  Today for example, we experimented with a lunch of sautee’d curry and garlic kohlrabi, wilted spinach pasta salad, and rhubarb crunch for desert.  It was different, but overall, we enjoyed the new flavors. 

I am greatly looking forward to the coming weeks, as the growing season takes us away from greens and into more colors and varieties of veggies.  In addition, within the next week or two, the fruit season will kick off, and I will be getting a family share of fruit as well.  I can’t wait to experiment with preserves, freezing, canning, saucing, and whatever else I can think up to do with this stuff! 

In case you live around CO, we use Grant Family Farms.  They have a huge selection of packages to meet everyone’s needs.  They also have choices of veggie shares, fruit shares, preserving shares, pastured eggs, and all sorts of pasture-raised meats.  It’s all organic and natural, tastes delicious, and you have a chance to support local farmers.  If you sign on, mention that I recommended them. 

Oh, and when we process all this produce, there is, of course, a bit of waste that remains:

onion roots, pea shells, stems, etc.

Now that I am getting to know my food better, I have a greater appreciation for it.  I hate wasting this stuff by just tossing it in the trash, and on base, we aren’t allowed to compost outside due to the wildlife it would potentially attract.  So I had to develop a plan.  Now, I feed it to the worms!  More on that another day, though!

Oh my goodness, where does the time go?!  This year is just flying by.  I feel like this poor blog is so neglected, and despite the fact that I enjoy it so much, it is typically the first thing to be sacrificed and pushed aside when daily life gets busy!  And rightfully so, I guess.  Nonetheless, the blog motivates me to take pics regularly, in the event I ever get around to posting them, and I still love learning from all the blogs I read almost every day.  So, in a meager attempt to semi-catch up with all I have fallen behind on, here is a synopsis of what all has been going on around here:

  When life gets busy, we put the kids on “Flour duty!”

OK, just kidding.  While they like to help, it does require quite a bit of effort on their part to make much progress.  S and I did decide, however, that S is officially in charge of grinding for me.  My daily schedule has become so task-saturated that something had to give.  It takes me almost 3 times as long to grind as it does him since he is much stronger and in much better shape, so now, once or twice a week, he fills my containers for me.  This has helped tremendously!

Like Father, like children!  I have previously had pics on here of the kids pretending to play  instruments during our family worship times, but now, it has become a regular occurance.  JR loves to play his violin, and since he is progressing through his lessons, he is actually making pretty decent sound on it nowadays.  M, on the other hand, continues to pluck away a miserable tune on her half-strung guitar.  Thank God, He only requires a joyful noise and a heart of worship!

Life got so busy, even little N couldn’t keep up the pace!   The other day, I had allowed myself to get busy with something and realized that his little noises had stopped.  I walked in to check on him, and discovered he had crawled under the dining room chair and fallen asleep!  He was so cute!!  Our kids are on such a good schedule that this type of thing rarely happens.  Therefore, I value these pics highly!

A recent personal goal of mine has been to tighten my blood sugar control even more.  When life gets busy, it is easy to let bg control slide a little.  Lately, after being inspired by several factors (not to mention to release of my book that preaches it!), I decided to really buckle down.  In case you are familiar with diabetes numbers, my goal is to be 90 pretty much every time I test.  Although it hasn’t happened yet, I am between 85 and 100 about 75% of the day now.  While I have been pleased with the results, of course, if I do happen to get unusually busy, it is very easy to have a rapid drop in blood sugar.  This pic was taken during one of those episodes where I had a particularly bad low, was very weak, and, after drinking some juice, I just sat down in the floor to rest and wait for my sugar level to rise a bit.  Of course, I was reminded that in a house with lots of littles, there is never a moment of rest!  JR, concerned about me, walked over to give me a hug, M and N jumped at the opportunity for some snuggle time, and Will the dog, who is retired from alerting to my low blood sugars still tends to react to severe lows and had to come over to check on me until he sensed a rise in my levels.  One thing is for sure…I definitely feel loved, even in my worst moments!!

Finally, another update on N…  For several reasons, we had some minor issues with his casts staying together, so we wound up taking one cast off after 3 days, and the other came after 6 days.  Even with that short time in the casts, though, his range of motion in the ankles has improved tremendously!!  We have been thrilled to not only find him naturally standing on his heels (flat-footed) with only periodic reminding, but he has even shifted his weight and posture to a more natural stance that will facilitate him learning to balance and walk!  We are so excited.  He has balanced for a few seconds at a time on several occasions, so we are no doubt making progress!  Because his braces aren’t quite ready yet, and because standing properly is still not coming totally naturally for him yet, the therapist has decided to cast him at least one more time.  So, at tonight’s therapy appointment, new casts are the plan.  We’ll see what color we get this time, and hopefully they will turn out better. 

A few other things are going on as well. 

We are still planning and preparing to move.  The count down is on, with an anticipated move in roughly 70-80 days.  Where are we going you might ask?  We still have no idea!  OK, so we have heard strong rumors, but until it is in official government writing, or at the very least, given to S by the head-honchos, we don’t really know anything.  Thus, we continue to wait.  Once we get word (which could be any day, or could be a month or more from now), things will get very hectic.  Therefore, we are doing what we can now.  We will have to house hunt, plan our trip to the farm (which may be in conjuction with the move, depending on our new assignment location), schedule the movers, and so on.  I’ll keep you posted. 

In an attempt to relax my schedule a bit, and to further prepare for our move, we have decided to cease violin lessons as of April.  We started them in December, having no idea of the issues that would arise with N just a month later.  As much as we enjoy the lessons, however, I refuse to allow business and optional activities to keep me away from my family when we have more important issues like therapy for N and work for S that keeps us apart.  Not to mention the money we will save.  That being said, S and I were very inspired by the Maxwell family, who we saw recently at a homeschool conference, and their musical talents–all of which had been self-taught.  So, while we may risk picking up a few bad habits or not performing to our fullest potential, I have decided to take on the role of violin teacher as part of homeschool.  I figure playing anything is better than nothing.  I purchased two violins, and JR and I will continue learning together.  This is the plan until we move, at which time, we will re-evaluate N’s therapy needs, our musical skills, and our new schedule, and then determine what path to take at that point. 

So there you have it.  A brief synopsis of the goings-on in our home.  Now maybe I can write more focused posts on more specific topics.

Every since we switched to organics, we have had high grocery bills.  I found a few ways to save a little here and there, but overall, our bill was still higher than I felt comfortable with.  S and I started discussing the issue and challenged ourselves to come up with ideas to cut expenses in the grocery department.  I began making the long distance monthly dairy run for our raw milk instead of buying it from the retail dealer.  I started buying bulk foods from a co-op.  Finally, we challenged ourselves to use the food we had available.  There was just one problem…..S was completely hooked on his mixing-bowl sized portion of cereal every morning.  He just couldn’t let it go.  However, I showed him that I was buying about 20 boxes a month at $3-$4 per box, and that was adding up.  So, he considered experimenting with other breakfasts. 

For the last 2 months, I have been thrilled with the results.  We have cut our grocery bill by several hundred dollars, yet we are still eating primarily organic foods.  We have not purchased or eaten any boxed cereal during that time, and instead, have eaten breakfast feasts of porridge, fruit smoothies, homemade bread, eggs–lots of eggs!, pancakes, muffins, cheese grits, and more!  Another benefit of the breakfast change is that my blood sugar levels have been easier to manage with the increased protein and decreased carbs in my diet. 

The more difficult challenge has been learning to be creative with my meals.  For a couple of years, I have used a monthly menu plan.  I had to toss that out.  While I will occasionally pick the ingredients for a specific favorite meal if I am grocery shopping anyway, for the most part, I must use what I have.  I am learning which items to buy in bulk and try to keep in stock.  I have also learned to freeze vegetables so I have some whenever I need them.  Despite the lack of preparations, we are still eating wonderfully healthy meals like beef roast (from the cow I purchased 8 months ago), steamed vegetables (fresh or from the freezer), rice or potatoes (whatever I have on hand), and occasionally a homemade roll.  I can then change the meal up by using different cuts of beef, different vegetables, different methods of cooking the food, and different sauces or seasonings.  I think I have unintentionally learned as much about cooking this year with all these changes, as I intentionally learned my first year of marriage (when I flat-out didn’t know how to cook)!

Next on the agenda:  learn to make pasta and can foods.  That’s right, I got my new canning supplies and pressure cooker, and I can’t wait for my next bulk-produce order to arrive (next week).  Stay tuned for the results!

Periodically, I am asked about the type of dinners I prepare.  I figured I would post this week’s dinner menu from my monthly meal planner.  Note that Tuesdays and Fridays are left FREE for leftover cleanups.  This week:

Monday:   Chicken Pot Pie, Salad, Fruit

Tuesday:    FREE

Wednesday:    Spaghetti and homemade meatballs in sauce, salad, garlic bread, Fruit

Thursday:   Taco Casserole, Fruit

Friday:   Grilled seasoned Salmon, asparagus, wild rice, fruit

Saturday:   FREE

Sunday:   Grilled Steak, Corn on the Cob, salad, roll, fruit

Now I’m hungry!  If you want more ideas or would like the recipe to anything, leave a comment.

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