Loving Laundry

The day we first looked at this house and land, I saw this and knew I had found our homestead:

At our former city house, clotheslines were against HOA regulations.  What – city people don’t do laundry?

We had some gorgeous weather this week, and my sweet baby has clean clothes – scented with the all natural “fresh air” scent.  No dryer sheets needed!

There is something very satisfying about standing in the sunshine, feeling the breeze, and carefully pinning up my baby’s clothes to dry.  It wasn’t a chore, but a pleasure.  No cramped, dirty laundry room.  No lint to clean.  Just a lot of fresh air.  And birds chirping, cows mooing, and even a donkey braying off in the distance.

Loving laundry.  Who would’ve thought?

Curious Cows

Call me crazy, but I like the cows.  The “natives” (my word for folks born and raised here) are not impressed with the cows or the cow pastures.  I am.  I have one on every side of my house.

Don’t try to tell me this isn’t scenic.  Instead of someone else’s back deck, I see rolling hills, old barns, and cows out my kitchen window.

I like how whenever I take a walk around the “back 40” the cows have to stare.

Maybe I don’t like it so much when the bull stares at me. I am still a city girl, you know.
Moo.

Why Aren’t Chimneys Illegal?

Our local paper had a gripping headline today that left me feeling betrayed and unprotected by our government.  The headline read, “Residents are warned to avoid possible tragedy.”  Quickly, I read the article.  My mouth went dry.  Fear grabbed me as my knees began to shake.  Every year, there are chimney fires.  Not just a few, but nearly 4 million chimney fires every year.  Did you read that?  Nearly 4 million chimney fires every year.  Right here in America!  And every year it is estimated that more than two thousand people die from these fires.

Where is our government?  Why aren’t our lawmakers forming a special committee to investigate these fires and the chimneys that cause them?  Where is the ATF?  People just are not capable of handling fires at home on their own.  We need guidelines and restrictions.  We need laws.  We need special permits and licenses to be able to have fires in our own fireplaces because every year there are nearly 4 million fires and many of those fires cause deaths.  Isn’t it the government’s responsibility to protect me from myself and my own decisions?

Oh – wait a minute – people have been having fires in their own fireplaces, safely, since the beginning of time.  Silly me.  I guess I was thinking about raw milk.

The Grain Girl Is Here!

Hello!  This is Amy, and I am The Grain Girl.  This is my blog, which I have had for several years at HomesteadBlogger, but that site just shut down so I have moved things here to Word Press.  I am passionate about healthy living and began this blog as an outreach tool as I encourage and help others change the way they eat.  Since then, it has morphed into an actual business with my sister.  You can find us at www dot wellfedfamily dot net. You can also find Well Fed Family on Facebook.  I would have moved my blog to the Well Fed Family website, but I am not very computer literate and it’s late and it was just easier to move to Word Press for now. 🙂

My family has recently moved to a rural Tennessee town where we finally have some acreage.  We had our fourth baby and also added 12 hens to our family.  Things are pretty busy around here as I care for my baby, manage our little homestead, and homeschool my other 3 children (which involves teaching my 5 year old to read and making sure my high schooler gets it all done) in addition to  being a helpmeet to my wonderful husband of nearly 21 years.  And don’t forget locating, obtaining, and preparing healthy foods for my family!  So I’m not blogging that much any more.  I hope to blog when I can, but in the meantime, there is plenty here to read and learn.  Happy, Healthy Eating!

Simple Meals

In my last post I mentioned that I was preparing “simple” meals for my family.  Someone recently asked me what I meant by that, and I thought it might be helpful to “share with the group,” so to speak.

Let me quickly clarify one thing: microwaveable, pre-made meals in a bag, and fast food do not fall into the simple category because they complicate life by creating health problems. 🙂

I’m working on emptying the freezer  (see how full it was last June?) to make room for our whole beef from my dear friends at Rocky Glade Farm, so this week I have definitely been on a roll with simple dinners. It began on Monday, with our last whole chicken from Goose Pond Farm (I’ll be getting more of those later this month too!).  I put it into the crock pot, frozen solid, and sprinkled some fresh herbs over the top.  I put on the lid and turned the setting to “high” and forgot about it the rest of the day.  About an hour before dinner, I chopped up some yukon gold potatoes and onion, tossed them in olive oil and fresh rosemary, and roasted them in the oven at about 400 degrees.  Then I sliced up some squash and put it in a pot with some onion slices and a little water and let it simmer on the stove til it was tender.  We had a yummy meal that came together with very little effort.

 

On Tuesday I remembered that we had some chicken breast from West Wind Farms.  That was a rare treat because I always buy my chickens whole and in bulk.  I had purchased this chicken breast anticipating our barren freezer.  The chicken had already thawed, so about an hour before it was time to eat I prepared Garlic Lime Chicken from Leanne Ely’s cookbook, “Saving Dinner.”  Basically you season the chicken and pan fry it.  Simple.  While that was cooking, I quartered the rest of our yukon gold potatoes, put them in a pot with water, and boiled them on the stove.  When they were done I drained them, dropped in a big dollup of butter, and mashed them up with a big fork.  We call them “fork mashed potatoes.”  Yum.  Finally, I opened a package of frozen green beans and steamed them on the stove according to the directions.  When we sat down to eat I made sure there was plenty of butter to add to our potatoes and beans, and of course salt and pepper.  You might have heard my kids raving about the chicken all the way to where you are.  It was good!  And SIMPLE.

So yesterday I scavenged through the depths of the freezer and came out with two little packages of swiss steaks, and one round steak.  Basically they are the same thing, except swiss steaks have been run through a tenderizer.  It is a fairly tough cut of meat.  I let the meat thaw on the counter all morning, then right after lunch I dredged each piece in flour and browned it on the stove in coconut oil.  Then I put it all into a 9×13 pan (it took two pans), poured all the drippings from the skillet over it, tossed in some sliced onion, covered it tightly, and put it in the oven at 250 degrees for the rest of the day.  About 30 minutes before dinner, I made creamy succotash from a recipe I found in a Kroger magazine about 8 years ago.  That involved boiling some frozen lima beans and corn in a pot of water, sauteeing some onion and garlic in a skillet, combining everything, adding some Hatcher Dairy whole cream and chopped up cherry tomatoes, and letting it simmer together just a few minutes.  While that was in the works, I found enough fruit lying around to make a quick fruit salad: fresh strawberries, local blueberries, banana, and one apple.  The baked steaks were falling apart tender – real comfort food!  The succotash was colorful and creamy, and the fruit salad was cool and refreshing for a hot day.  That was easy!  Did I say YUM yet?

So that’s my simple menu for the week thus far.  “Simple” can have several meanings.  A one-dish dinner is simple.  A crock pot meal is simple.  Re-heating left-overs is definitely simple.  But also, a basic “meat ‘n three” (or in my case meat ‘n two) is simple.  Slow cook the meat all day and add a couple of sides and you’re done.  Now that is simple.

Before I close I feel a strong need to add a gentle reminder about “simple.”  Are you looking at my meal pictures and descriptions and feeling overwhelmed?  You might enjoy this quote from a great post by Lydia at Frugal Granola:

She eyes me as I diaper my son in the Parent Room at church one Sunday morning.  “It’s really not a big deal” I tell her, depositing the soiled diaper in my wetbag and stashing it in the diaper bag.  “Just an extra two loads of laundry a week.”  She nods, but still looks dubious.  I know why.

I laughed out loud when I read this – this is so me!  So often when I tell people something is so easy, they look at me dubiously.  What is simple for me is not necessarily simple for someone else.  Read on:

Living the simple life really isn’t about making things “easy” at all. It is about choosing to focus on the complexities of things that matter to you, and making space in your life for those things.

I think Lydia has nailed it.  This lifestyle is a choice.  In addition to eating the way we do, we have chosen to dramatically slow down our pace of life.  We have let some things go so that we can focus on others.  The meals I’ve shown you above work well for me because I am home every day.  I’m not sitting around looking for things to do, but I’m home.  This makes certain things possible for me that may not be possible for you.  Please read the rest of Lydia’s post – it’s short and worthwhile.

Well now you know what is simple for me.  I hope that I’ve been able to give you some good ideas for making simple meals at your house.  Join me and the Well Fed Family on Facebook and share your ideas of simple but healthy meals!

Where we are, What we’re doing, How we’re doing it

Hello Dear Readers!  Much has happened in my life in the last 12 months.  It’s been hard, but it’s all good.  Major life changes, even the good ones, don’t come without effort, stress, tears, and prayer.  Since I last posted, we have moved from a rental house into our country home on 23 acres.  A month later, we had our fourth baby:  beautiful 8 lb. 5 oz. Rebekah.  We also added 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, and a study onto our house.  Then we bought 12 chicks (future egg layers!).  This has all been in the last 6 months.  Currently, we are waiting for it to stop raining long enough for us to fill our raised beds with dirt and start our garden.  Slowly, we are making this house and land our home.

Our move to the country took us away from most all of our healthy food sources.  With our beloved farmer’s market, farms, and even Whole Foods more than an hour away I have had to reinvent my entire method for obtaining healthy food without sacrificing on the health part.  Pregnancy and nursing are critical times in the life of Mommy and Baby, and at 43 years old I cannot afford to let that go like I did at 29.  But it’s not all about me – I have 3 other children and a husband looking to me to provide them with nourishing food that will keep them well now and in years to come.  Well it’s been a year this month since our move away from the city and I am thrilled and thankful to say, “We did it! And we ARE doing it!”  I want to share with you a little about how we did it, and a few things I have learned in the process.

Our here in the country there is not only no health food store, but the local grocery stores leave a lot to be desired.  Thankfully the grocer in our neighboring community has just remodeled and in so doing has expanded their natural foods section.  They have a long way to go, but there has been great improvement.   Unfortunately they still do not offer any natural or pastured meats, and the only acceptable dairy product they offer is Kerrygold butter.  I’m still searching for local sources for organic or nearly organic produce.  These things take time, and usually you meet someone who knows someone else who saw a little stand somewhere … In the meantime, we are going to learn how to grow our own and I am excited about that.

So what am I doing?  I am relying on my freezer.  We have eaten an entire beef this year.  Not a quarter, not a half, but a WHOLE.  I picked it up from the processor last June.  We have just a few cuts left.  I will be picking up our next whole beef in June again.  This will be our main meat supply for the coming year.  This forces me to plan what we are going to eat, and to learn new ways of  preparing certain cuts that I previously knew nothing about.  In the last 12 months, I have not bought one single cut of beef from a store!  Additionally, we’ve been eating the whole chickens I purchased and froze before our move.  We have not been having fancy, expensive boneless chicken breast dishes.  But I have learned how to cut up and de-bone an entire chicken to have on the grill or bake in the oven.  In the last year, I have not bought one single package of chicken from a grocery store (ok I did buy some drumsticks from a local farm)!  Additionally, once a month we drive 90 minutes to Whole Foods and load up on foods that we can’t get here that freeze well.  And I just reserved a pig that will be ready for us around the end of the year,  about the time we’ll have made a good dent in the beef.  That will re-fill the freezer.  Can I just say that the investment in a large chest freezer has been worth every penny?

Something else I am learning to do is rely on the “Dirty Dozen” list that tells me which fruits and vegetables should be organic and which ones are ok to eat conventionally.  Our local grocer has some organic produce but not much so I buy according to the Dirty Dozen list most of the time.  When we drive to the city once a month, we go on a Saturday and make our first stop the farmer’s market where we buy as much produce as we can there, making sure not to over-buy so that we eat what we buy within two weeks so it is all still fresh.  I’ve learned that healthy meals don’t require lots of produce.

After asking everyone I knew, and praying about it, I have found our source for fresh raw milk and farm fresh eggs.  We are getting eggs from pastured hens for $1.25/dozen!  On the other hand, we’re now paying $9/gallon for milk (as opposed to the $3/gallon we paid before the move).  We go through several dozen eggs and 5 gallons of milk per week.  These are very important items.  The cost is a non-issue – we have to have the milk and it evens out since the eggs are so cheap and we are not buying as much produce, etc.  Hopefully by the end of the summer our 12 chicks will be providing us with plenty of eggs!

Finally, I am relying on the mail and online ordering for items like cheese, maple syrup, coconut oil, cod liver oil, etc.  I am still able to use our bulk food co-op since they have a delivery location nearby so that is a great blessing.

Does all this sound crazy?  Consider Proverbs 31 verse 14 where God tells us that a virtuous woman, whose price is far above rubies, is “like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.” 🙂

Here’s the kicker to all this:  we are eating really well, very healthy, in abundance, and we are spending LESS. Yes, we are spending LESS!  We are still spending a bundle per visit to Whole Foods, and a hundred or more per month through my food co-op, and we are buying expensive milk and expensive coconut oil and expensive maple syrup and more, but we are spending less.  For one thing, we no longer have the convenience of running to the grocery store to pick up a little something for dinner.  For another thing, we are buying in bulk.  And finally, we eat at home.  There just isn’t anywhere to eat out around here, so we just eat at home.  I am cooking a full breakfast for my family of six most every day of the week, and a full dinner every night.  But we are spending less money.  I never use coupons, I never get anything on sale.  I just buy directly from the farmer when I can, including through the mail, and we eat at home. Oh yes – and we cook from scratch instead of eating prepared, processed foods.

So we’re spending less, and eating more, and I have a new baby who nurses every 2 hours plus 3 others to homeschool and I am cooking more.  How is this being accomplished?  I am making meals as simple as possible, and I have taught my children how to help.  My ten year old daughter has learned how to do a lot of things in the kitchen this year.  Because she can read and follow directions, and I have taught her a few cooking techniques, she can do quite a bit in the kitchen.  On Sunday nights, she is completely in charge of our meal!  Anything she has a problem with she just asks.  I can nurse the baby and give verbal directions at the same time.  Also, she and my son are in charge of emptying the dishwasher and cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast and dinner.  They do this every day.  And like I mentioned earlier, we eat very simple meals.

It’s been quite the year for our family.  I never thought we’d move out to the country like this, and I sure didn’t think that I would be having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby at 43 years old.  There have been many times where I have marveled at God’s mercies to have brought me where I am today.  If He had not led me on this journey of healthy eating, and I had not listened, how would my body have handled pregnancy and birth at this age?  There was a long season in my life where I had nothing to drink but diet Coke, and McDonalds was my primary food source.  But I did listen, and while it has been difficult, it has been worth it.  

I hope that you are listening too.  Your journey toward healthy eating and better health won’t be easy either.  People won’t understand, they will criticize you, they will talk about you behind your back, they will challenge you, they will roll their eyes, and you will be tired and busy and frustrated many times.  You probably won’t see immediate results and your kids will refuse to eat and your husband will complain.  Hang in there!  It will be worth it for you too.  But don’t trust me, trust God.  He will direct your path.

…Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. Psalm 143:8b

Discernment Required: a grocery store review and primer

There’s a new grocery store in town!  Earth Fare has begun opening stores in Alabama, and after months of anticipation they have opened their newest store in my home-town of Auburn, Alabama.  This week I visited Earth Fare for the first time. It will be a great resource for those who are trying hard to find locally grown produce and meats, as well as other un-processed foods that are free from dangerous hormones, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals.

First, the store was small enough that it wasn’t overwhelming, the décor peaceful and a little earthy; with more barrels and baskets and less industrial shelving.  The produce section was a delight – everything appeared fresh, and was rich looking and colorful without the heavy waxes and coatings you find in conventional stores.  The meat department will be a blessing to those who haven’t been able to locate truly local farm fresh meats.  The dairy department included several options of full fat yogurts and some non-homogenized milk.  Unfortunately, their selection of cream was disappointing – all their cream has been ultra-pasteurized.  This doesn’t have to be so, as they carry a line of regional milk that could probably supply them with a better quality cream.  They had a refrigerator case with several selections for Kombucha, which was something I had not seen before so that was a nice find.  They also had a bulk foods selection that offered freshly ground nut butter, honey, real maple syrup, and many grain products such as actual wheat to grind at home, brown rice, dried beans, pasta, and more.  I was thrilled to see a bulk pasta section that included fresh tortellini and ravioli, with good ingredients!  Unheard of!  They even had several varieties of raw cheese that I have only seen in food co-ops, such as Morningland Dairy – an excellent product.

This is the type of thing that will give Earth Fare an edge over Whole Foods: offering a variety of raw cheese and other products that are often hard to find.

And there you have it – the most important parts of the grocery store checked out and I give a “thumbs up”!  But please, read on.

Overall I don’t see Earth Fare as being any different than any other major health food grocery store.  They do a great job providing folks with a better option in terms of produce, meats, and dairy.   This is a real blessing.  They also offer great products that you simply cannot find elsewhere, such as full fat organic coconut milk, true soy sauce, truly un-refined sea salts, more natural health care products and cleaning products, bulk herbs, etc.  On the other hand, they offer just as many un-healthy options as a regular grocery store.  Except somehow people lose their minds at the health food store and begin to buy products blindly.  I guess they assume that since it is at Earth Fare or Whole Foods it must be fine to eat.  Especially when it says “all natural” or “organic” on the label.

I’m here today to remind everyone to use caution at the health food store!  Put on your “discernment caps” and use common sense and wisdom!  First of all, shop the perimeter of the store and do your best to avoid the aisles.  This means go for the produce, meat, and dairy.  Then only go through the aisles that offer basic, un-processed products like flour, baking soda, nut butters, canned vegetables, olive oil, vinegars, etc.  The rest of the store you can ignore completely!

Yesterday as I browsed the aisles at Earth Fare I found the same ol’ problem that exists at Whole Foods and every other grocery store in America:  100% processed foods with great boasts on the label about how healthy they are.

The freezer cases are loaded with processed “foods” like the one pictured above.  This is obviously geared toward the vegetarian crowd – they bring in a lot of money because they are so hungry since they aren’t eating animal foods. 🙂  But seriously, my opinion of vegetarianism aside – no matter your take on healthy eating, one glance at the nutrition label makes it clear that this product is not really food:

Mycoprotein (30%), Gruyère cheese (skim milk, whey powder, corn starch, salt, cheese culture, enzyme, sodium dihydrogen orthophosphate, polyphosphates), breadcrumb (wheat flour, yeast, salt, vegetable mono- and di-glycerides, ascorbic acid), water, onions, sunflower oil. Contains 2% or less of egg white, potato maltodextrin, tapioca starch, dextrose, autolyzed yeast extract, natural flavors from non-meat sources, citric acid, calcium lactate, pectin, gum arabic, onion powder, garlic powder, canola oil, corn oil ??Made from natural ingredients.

First, don’t let that last statement fool you – the FDA may consider these natural ingredients but if they didn’t come direct from the farm, or if you can’t buy them for your pantry, they are not natural.  The number one ingredient, Mycoprotein, is something I have never heard of and am sure no one has in their pantry.  Then note that the Gruyere cheese contains whey powder, a form of oxidized cholesterol – something truly dangerous for your heart and also a known form of Monosodium Glutamate.  There are quite a few other red flags in this ingredient list (phosphates, maltodextrin, dextrose, natural flavors, canola oil…), but let me point out just one more: autolyzed yeast extract.  This is another well-known form of Monosodium Glutamate, which is an “excitotoxin” and does damage to your nervous system (whether the FDA will officially admit it or not).

This reminds me of something my savvy son discovered at the Whole Foods food bar not too long ago:

Do you see the irony?  If it isn’t really what it is, then it isn’t food.  Got it?

Here is a marketing scheme that caught my eye yesterday at Earth Fare:

The store is playing on the desires of concerned moms who want healthy kids by pointing them to this aisle in the middle of the store, where it would appear that THIS is where you will find the HEALTHY foods for KIDS!  My first question here is why do children need a special food section at the grocery store?  Should they not be eating the same things as adults – such as fresh produce, meat, and dairy?  Well you won’t find any of that in this aisle.  Here is the first product proudly displayed under the Healthy Kids banner:

Mini organic chocolate cookies!  Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that Late July cookies are the BOMB!!!  But do they really need to be marketed as healthy foods for kids?  Late July cookies have far better ingredients than other crème filled sandwich cookies at the conventional grocery store, and I do buy them as an occasional treat for my family, but they are NOT the foods that will make your children healthy!  Don’t be fooled!

The rest of the Healthy Kids aisle was laden with pre-packaged processed foods that a “health conscious” mom would purchase for her child’s school lunch box and feel like she was doing something really good.

Now the ingredients in these bars are nothing bad, no concern.  But why can’t Mom just make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using all natural peanut butter and all natural jelly and a decent loaf of whole wheat bread?  Is it really that much trouble?  I’m telling you that $4.29 for 5 1-oz. bars is EXPENSIVE and if you just bought the individual ingredients you would get a LOT more for your money!  And Junior would be much more satisfied eating something fresh.

Mom really needs to be careful in aisles like these where the packaging is fun and the products not necessarily dangerous to Junior’s health…Because this is where “healthy” eating can get really expensive.  Why does Mom need to buy pre-packaged apple sauce?  It is incredibly easy to make fresh applesauce at home using fresh apples, a little cinnamon and nutmeg, and some maple syrup.  You don’t even need to peel them – just take a hand blender to the pot and puree the whole thing.  Cheap, fresh, economical, and especially environmentally friendly.  By the way, these pre-packaged foods that don’t have harmful ingredients are not necessarily nourishing.  They are processed foods, by the very  nature of their being in these packages, and that means they are basically dead foods.  Dead foods cannot bring health to your children (or anyone else).

These are the products that bring in the money for the grocery store and that is why store managers draw your attention to them and play upon your desires to “do what’s right.”

You see, wherever you shop, fake foods and highly processed foods abound.  And it is up to you to recognize and avoid them.  While buying organic and all natural produce, meats, and dairy IS more expensive than the conventional grocery store, you will save money in the long run by NOT purchasing pre-packaged products, and by NOT falling prey to marketing schemes promoting highly processed fake foods with questionable claims.  It isn’t hard to spot these foods.  You’ve just got to be wise and discerning.

So there you have it:  a little review of Earth Fare, a seemingly great health food chain that is probably Whole Foods’ biggest competitor.  With this review you get a little primer on how to shop any grocery store and spot the wolves in sheep’s clothing hiding among the aisles.  Let me say again:  I really liked Earth Fare and am so glad to see it in Auburn!  For more information about this chain visit their website at http://www.earthfare.com.

And remember:  this post, as with this entire blog, is my opinion only and is intended simply to get you thinking about what and how you feed your family.  Come join me on Facebook – look for The Grain Girl, and also for the companion page, “Well Fed Family” for much more healthy eating info and resources!