School’s Out

I struggle with ideas for dinner. I don’t like cooking the same thing every night, and the kids really don’t like it when I do that either. So what do I do? Do I troll around the internet? All that ever yields me is lots of pretty pictures and things I never do. Where do I find inspiration? I guess that’s what kids are for.

When Decker came home from school on his last day, he told me immediately that he wanted to do home-school/summer-school. I was seriously shocked. “Decker you just got out of school, are you serious?” He said he was, and then proceeded to get onto Netflix and watch Nova all weekend. Man I have a weird kid. Well, crap. Now I need to get stuff together for that.

While I’m trolling the internet for home-school ideas, I’m thinking about things I can teach him. We need to do math, writing, art, PE, and other stuff. What am I going to do for history or world studies? Whoa, I think I actually have an idea and I don’t have to stress about what to cook as much!

So for the summer we will be “traveling the world” through food! Every week I will be cooking from a different country and we will learn about that country’s food, history, and other neat bits and pieces. I’m not sure if a week will be enough for each culture, but we’ll just have to see how it works.

Decker’s first request? Sushi. Seriously. He said it’s his favorite thing. Now, I don’t feel I can do sushi right, so this one we might just have to go out for, but the beauty is, he will learn that every culture is much more than the one small bit he knows it as. Right now, Japan for him is sushi. That’s it. So on this journey we will both be learning new things and having our own inspiration. This summer is going to be very fun. 🙂

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This will be my husband all summer long.

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Easy Salsa

I make many different types of salsa. Seriously. Salsa is pretty much my favorite thing to eat for a snack. You’re eating tomatoes, and whatever else you’ve put in it, so that can’t be too bad for you, right? 😉 So here it goes. No real chopping involved, and it’s fairly quick.
You’ll need:
Blender/Food Processor (either will work, if your blender is weak, use a food processor instead)
Sheet pan lined with tinfoil or a silpat (cookie sheet)
a container for your salsa

Ingredients:
Tomatoes
Garlic
your choice of chili
Serrano, jalapeno, whatever you like for heat, make it as spicy or mild as you like
cilantro
salt
cumin
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As for the tomatoes, if you get them at a farmer’s market or your backyard you will get truly vine ripened tomatoes and your salsa will be amazing. If you buy them from the store, they usually put unripened tomatoes into a container and fill it up with gas to turn the tomatoes red. That’s why they last so darn long. They’re not ripe to begin with. The better quality tomato you use, the yummier this will be.

To start, open up your oven and move a rack to the top position for broiling. Close that sucker up and turn your oven onto broil. If you have a high/low set it to high.
Cut your tomatoes in half and place them cut side down on your sheet pan. In my oven the broiler is the weakest near the door, so I place my garlic still in the paper and my chilis (cut in half, cut side down) near the door. This will make for more even charring.
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Pop these guys in the oven and don’t walk away. Depending on your oven, your charring process can take 3-7 min. If you go over, you’ll end up with little briquettes and a mess to clean up. It’s quick, you can get everything out while they’re in the oven if you haven’t already
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When the look a little charred pull them out and let them cool for a minute. Then take the garlic out of the paper and toss it in your blender. Then, I just pick up my tinfoil carefully and pour everything else into my blender. Once that’s done, I throw in a pinch of salt and about 1/2 tsp of cumin. Thrown in some cilantro, I throw in about a handfull, then cover and blend. If your tomatoes are still hot, you will have some expansion in the volume, so put a dishtowel over the lip and hold onto the top. We like salsa in bowls, not as a decoration for the kitchen walls. 🙂
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Once you’ve got it nicely blended, taste it. See if you need more heat, or salt. Once you have it adjusted, pour into a tupperware, or serving bowl. You can let it cool in the fridge or eat it just like it is, warm, with anything you like to use salsa for.

The true beauty of this recipe is that it’s so simple that you can add tons of things to it to change it up. Say you like it a little more smokey? Add a couple chipotles in. You can add all sorts of goodies to make it how you like.
Possible additions:
chipotles
onion
avacado
lemon
lime
replace the cilantro with basil and you’ve got easy pasta sauce!

Perfect for tacos!!
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Simple is Wonderful

So yesterday was a great day at the market. Seeing all the new vendors at Round Rock Farm 2 Market was just great. In particular there was a new vendor that interested me. Lala’s Lemonade sounded just too perfect. It’s been hot here in Texas for awhile now. I can make my own lemonade, but if I can get it at the market, and it’s about as pure and natural as it comes, why not try? So I bought a half gallon and brought it home. Sorry kids, this is mommy’s treat this week. (I might share, still don’t think I want to!)

Last night was tiring. Brought home everything from the market, putting kids to work, getting homework done, cleaning, feeding, bed time, crazy baby….just tiring. Now, I did get that lemonade, and hubby did pick up some tequilla…..oh yum!

Drunk Lemonade

8oz glass
1 shot your choice of tequilla
the rest lemonade
(you can add a shot if you’re daring)

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The tequilla we used was 1800 Select Silver Tequilla. Now, I’ve had Patrón, and while it is very good, this stuff we got is equally as smooth and WAY cheaper and every bit as fabulous.

So, I don’t think you could get a more perfect summery drink. Lemonade + tequilla = love in a glass. Especially when paired with beef tamales from Pleasant Hills Farm. Life is good!

Frugal Market Part 2

Switching over from shopping at the grocery store couponing to shopping at a farmers market can be a shock on the wallet. It was for us, but it was worth every cent. I think I was a pretty good couponer too. I could easily feed my family on just $32 a week with food to spare. Honestly, though…it wasn’t really food. There’s a reason why you can get that “food” for little to no money. Nutritionally, that’s all it’s worth. Yeah, yeah, it has the nice nutritional label on the side spouting all sorts of facts about how it has all the vitamins from A-Z. Well, that’s nice and all, but your body cannot absorb that “vitamin spray” that they put on the “food.” And if you have kids like mine, who are extremely sensitive to either sugar or processed foods, you just have to say no for their sake.

So if it’s more expensive and my kids aren’t sensitive, why should I bother? For one, the food tastes a million times better than from the grocery store. It’s picked at the height of freshness usually no more than a day before the market . The grocery store…well who knows when it was picked, but it most certainly wasn’t picked ripe. If they do that, the food would perish on the long long trips it has to take to even get to the store, let alone sit for a week or more before it’s purchased. Add to the fact that here in Texas we get many things shipped from California…well…that’s a lot of gas wasted when we can get it right here and support local farmers.

Not only does it taste better, but it’s better for you. The mineral and vitamin counts are MUCH higher. Take for example eggs that you can get at the market. Lovely, beautiful, farm fresh, ranged eggs. The difference between farm eggs and store bought?

• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

Source

That is just eggs. It really is amazing the difference in quality once you start researching.

So, on the the Farmer’s Market. There aren’t really any coupons at a Farmer’s Market, so how do you save? How can you make it work on a budget? How am I making this new, obviously higher cost shopping work? Simple. Make friends. Once you establish yourself as a regular at the market, the sellers start to recognize you. Be friendly, ask about their products. And the clincher: ask about buying in bulk. We got a steal of a deal on beautiful new potatoes because we asked. We got the onion tops because we asked. We got turnip greens, because we were being friendly and talking about food. I also like to buy things like beets when in season. Now, I’m not talking just beets, but beets with greens still attached. Then you get a salad and condiment all in one! 🙂 I have also noticed greens last WAY longer than store bought, and just everything looks plain healthier.

Not everything is more expensive. There are quite a few vegis that I’ve gotten that have actually been cheaper than, say, going to Whole Foods. You also get a better variety of foods and can truly shop seasonally. How many people have seen purple carrots at the store? We had those at our market this week.

Also, if you speak with the farmers, sometimes you can volunteer for food. Sometimes they need extra help on the farm doing all sorts of work. Anything from plowing, planting, weeding, or harvesting. There’s a local farm here that asks for volunteers every so often and you can get a half bushel of fresh produce for helping. They don’t always have openings, but it’s always worth it to ask. For those in Austin, Johnson’s Backyard Garden are currently looking for helpers.

For me, shopping at the farmer’s market has brought me closer to my food, and enjoyment of it. Nothing beats fresh, ripe vegis. And if you have kids, it’s amazing what happens. My 2nd oldest, who is three, is a marginally picky eater. After going to the farmer’s market and me letting him pick out the food, and having some farmers explain what it is to him, he can’t wait to try new things! How great is that!

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These are some of the beauties we got at the market this week. The most amazing cherry tomatoes you’ve ever eaten. Dead serious. It was a good thing I took a pic right when we got them, because they were gone by the time we finished walking around the market!

Frugal Market

I went to the Round Rock Farms to Market on Wednesday as usual and one of the farmers was cutting the tops off of onions and just selling the bottoms. The tops no longer looked good, and most people wouldn’t buy the onion if the tops looked wilted and brown, even though it wouldn’t matter.

Thankfully I know better. There was nothing wrong with those tops that a little adjustment couldn’t fix. Anything that I couldn’t save would be future compost, so why not try. SO I asked him for the tops. He looked at me like I was crazy, then got a little excited and thought it was cool I even wanted them. He ended up giving me all the tops he had, and even apologized he didn’t have more. Just gotta say, I LOVE Bush Farms. He just gave me the goodies for free. (I did buy a basket of the purple onions, yum!) Just awesome!

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So what to do with a bag of onion tops that looks like a hot mess?? Take a knife and start cleaning em up!!

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All I did was pull off the parts that looked wilted or brown, and cut off any tops that were getting that way. I ended up with a lovely pile of green onion tops! Perfect for salads, or, well, just about anything I’d use onions for!

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Now the leftover wilted parts, and smaller pieces I just don’t feel like cleaning up. Well, I make stock once a week, sometimes more. I don’t know about you, but I HATE using a whole onion. Seems like a waste to use something you’d eat normally in stock. I already have a bag in the freezer that I save all my cuttings from various vegetables, but there never seems to be enough onions. Well, Time to clean up the scraps! All I did was just take off the brown crispy parts and I ended up with a decent freezer bag full of future stock fodder.

It’s amazing what things happen when you start going to a farmer’s market and speaking with the people that produce your food. You end up getting diamonds in the rough, that others would cast off. Funny enough, this week I got the onion tops, and at another vendor I got another customer’s turnip greens because they don’t use them. Talk about a great day at the market!!

Homemade Granola Bars

My kids don’t really care all that much about what I’m cooking for them. The only thing they really care about is that it tastes good. The one thing they do care about: granola bars. They just can’t get enough of them. I used to go to the grocery store and buy them, but what do you find in them? Lots and lots of processed sugars. Now, one of my kids is extremely sensitive to sugar. When the poor kid eats processed sugar he just losses it and has trouble controlling himself. So what to do? Make my own!!

So I started searching for recipes and found a great one at Kitchen Stewardship that looked like it would work for us. This recipe is pretty simple compared to another I tried before.

Ingredients:

4 1/2 C Rolled Oats
1 cup whole wheat flour, or spelt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup butter, softened*
1 cup honey

You can add in up to 2 cups of additional ingredients to really make this recipe your own.
*If the butter’s straight out of the fridge, I just throw it in the kitchen-aide and beat the heck out of it for a bit, always seems to work for me 🙂 You could also substitute coconut oil for butter if you’re dealing with a milk allergy.

Instructions:

Start by greasing a 13 x 9 pan, and heating the oven up to 325.

In one bowl, add together all dry ingredients except the additional items you’ve chosen

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Then, in a mixing bowl, beat together butter, honey, and vanilla until thoroughly combined.

Once combined, add in the dry ingredients and beat till well incorporated.

Once that’s well blended, fold in the extras you’ve chosen.  (Honestly, I just threw all my extras in and mixed it with my Kitchen-aide, but I didn’t use anything that was large and chunky).

Now that everything’s mixed up, dump it in your greased pan, and press it down as best you can.  The more you manage to squish it down in the pan, the easier your life will be when you eventually try to cut the things. (I “cheated” and put a piece of wax paper over it, then used a flat pan to squish it down to make it consistent)

Time to throw it in the oven for 15-20 min.  I left mine in until the edges were golden brown.

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Now the worst part.  Letting it just sit there and cool.  Once you think it’s cool, then stick it in the fridge to cool some more.  I know some people that just throw it in the freezer, but I wanted to eat them faster than that.  🙂

Once they were completely cool, I took a knife and went around the outside of the pan to loosen up the edges.  I tried cutting them with a knife, but they started to come apart, so instead I used a bench scraper to cut the bars.  That actually worked much much better.

To store them once you’ve cut them, you can either just keep them in the pan if you think you’ll use them in a week or so, or you can wrap them up with a little plastic for individual bars, or jsut in an air tight container. Decker just throws them in his bag for a snack for school. For longer keeping you could put them in the freezer, but I really doubt they’d last that long.

Additional items you can put in the bars might be:

Dried fruit of any kind
Any type of nuts.
Chocolate chips
1/4 c coco powder
1/4 c nut butter in place of 1/2 c of butter
Lots of different ideas possible. For our batch we used 1/2 c dried mango, 1/2 c raisins, 1/2 c flax seeds, and 1/2 c sunflower seeds. The only thing I suggest is if you’re using fruit or nuts, so chop them up a little so that they incorporate throughout the bars. Say to about raisin size.

For me, this recipe ended up making 16 bars, but they were a little big, but hey, we like big granola bars! Best of all, Decker’s happy, but next time I think I might grind up some almonds and throw them on the top before I bake them for an extra crunch. Enjoy!

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Change in Perspective

Once you learn something, you can’t undo that. You can put your head in the sand, you can pretend it’s not there, but it never does go away. Not until you embrace the change that it means in your life can you truly be free.

This statement has held true for me for a great many things. Any time I ignored the new thing, it caused havoc with my psyche. The only release was acceptance and greater knowledge.

For awhile I have been trying to feed my family on as little money as possible. Shoot, I was quite proud that I was feeding a family of 4 (2 boys that eat like grown men) for less than $35 a week. After a bit, I realized we were getting sick more often, and really, why am I able to get all this food for little or no cost? There’s something wrong about this picture.

I started researching food we had been eating. I wanted to know THE best way to nourish my children so that they can become strong, intelligent, productive people. I wanted to nourish myself and my husband so we can be the best we can be. In the past I have watched Food, Inc. and other documentaries about food. I always thought they were interesting, but never really thought they applied to me. I mean, I NEVER went to McDonald’s, we ate occasionally at Burger King and Taco Bell, everything in moderation, right? Well, this is true….when you’re eating REAL food.

This was around the time I learned about the Weston A. Price Foundation. This is where I learned about different types of fats and nutrients that we think are healthy, but frankly, just plain aren’t. I learned how important fermented foods are in our lives. (Think probiotics) Things that humans have lived on for thousands of years that we no longer live off of because of mass production of cheap processed food.

It’s interesting when you start to read labels on foods. Seriously, when was the last time you actually READ a label. Not just the “nutrition” information, but the actual ingredients? Just something as simple as looking at milk. Say you’re at the store and you buy 1% milk. Look at the label. Why in the world would they need to add milk powder back into milk? It’s just milk, right? But then, how do they make powdered milk? It’s not like simply putting it in a dehydrator would work. When you start to learn how food is processed (made), it starts to sound really really disgusting.

You are what you eat. Go look in your cabinet. Really read about what’s in there, and tell me, are you all natural, clean, and healthy? Or are you chemically laden, unnatural, and processed? I know what I’m going to choose, and the recipes that I post after this will follow in line with that objective. Hope to have you along for the ride. 🙂