Friday, June 22, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake for Breakfast

I just love it when inspiration strikes. Just when my kids were eying me suspiciously to see if I would serve them toast and smoothies yet again, I had the most summery, delicious idea. Strawberry Shortcake - for breakfast! Instead of sugary pound cake, I made whole wheat biscuits and covered them in molten, ruby-colored berries sprinkled with cinnamon and then topped with coconut cream. Healthy and oh, so delicious. June on a plate!

I know this is a travesty, but I confess, I used frozen strawberries. Even though they are in season and readily available right now, I had only frozen on hand. They are beautiful, organic whole berries from Costco though. I started them in a pan to defrost on medium heat. Then I made the biscuits...

I used this simple recipe:

3c whole wheat pastry flour
1c water (you could use milk but we are dairy free and they taste great with water)
1 Tbsp vinegar (I add this to the water to simulate the tang of buttermilk - works great)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (I love using Real Salt brand)
1/2 c shortening (we love Tropical Traditions Palm Shortening - so healthy!)

I just mixed everything up, formed them with my hands into biscuit shapes, and baked at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

While the biscuits were baking, I added honey (a couple of Tbsp probably) and a little cinnamon to the strawberries and simmered them for about 15 minutes. Then I turned off the heat to let them cool.

To assemble the shortcakes, I spooned the warm berries over two biscuits and topped them with a big spoonful of coconut cream... You could of course use whipped cream instead.

These turned out so well! The kids vacuumed them up and asked for seconds.

 Here's one of my happy customers now!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summer Is Here! 

For the last several years, I have felt like summer was over before it started and I felt like we had squandered it. Since I homeschool four kids, I really need a nice long summer to recharge for the next year. The kids need it too. But, we've been so busy the last couple of summers, I felt like it wasn't a break at all. This summer I want it to be different. I want to run around a lot less. I want to be intentional about making memories, having some good old fashioned summer fun, tackling several cool projects I've pinned on Pinterest, and accomplishing things around our homestead that sorely need doing.

Here are a few things that are on my list:

  • Saving up for a sewing machine and then learning how to make a simple quilt like this one:

  • Making ice cream and lots of it! This is one recipe that caught my eye. We have some lactose intolerance in our family and I have found some neat dairy-free recipes to play around with in my new Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker. Woohoo!
  • Signing the kids up for the summer reading program at our library and spending many hours enjoying their wonderful air conditioning while we look at books together.
  • Camping out under the stars and breaking in our new canoe at the lake. Yay!
  • Spending lots of time in Yosemite.
  • Practicing with my new camera and maybe even taking an online class I've had my eye on.
And, as for some of the things we need to get done around the homestead:

  • Renovating the chicken coop and yard for these guys:
  • Fencing off a yard for the dogs.
  • Working on growing some fresh veggies and fruits for our family.
 I do have some other things I hope to accomplish, but I won't beat myself up if I don't get it all done. I want to enjoy this summer!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sprucin’ Up the Deck for Summer

It’s 91 degrees here today and I am finding myself using my deck more and more. We just had it put in last summer and it’s like a whole extra room. I had no idea we would use it so much and really consider it more living space. I love sitting out there every morning drinking my chai latte reading the Bible and whatever book I'm working on at the moment (today it was Beautiful Outlaw which is SO good!).

 I haven’t done a whole lot with it yet except put some furniture on it which I got from one of my best friends who moved to Spokane recently. It’s fun having these visual reminders of her on the deck – every time I sit on my porch swing I think of my good buddy. We also scored an amazing deal on a gas grill last year. I’ve wanted one for so long, but they are not cheap! But, last year my husband was at the right place at the right time. The place was Home Depot and the time was after one was damaged or returned (not sure which). The friendly Home Depot guy told my husband that it was only missing two wheels and other than that it worked great and did he want it for $75? Uh, yeah!!! 

So with these basics, I started adding a few pots here and there which have sat neglected since early spring. I had some beautiful primroses in these, but they have seen better days. Here is a picture of my sad pots…

So I headed out the home improvement stores and our feed store (which has the most beautiful plants!) and bought a few things to just start getting the deck ready for the season. I also found some really, really pretty flowers at Rite Aid of all places including a gorgeous day lilly. Who knew? I wish I had bought more, because when I came to my senses and went back to get another, they were gone. Oh well. Anyway, here are some pictures of my efforts so far…old plants pulled out, new plants put in, everything freshened up!

I planted wave petunias which are supposed to cascade down the sides of the pots over the summer. I also added some color to the grill area and the table and check out that sunset!

Oh…and I had some great company, and entertainment from this guy…

Hope you are having a great weekend!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Husband's Favorite Dinner Gets a Healthy Makeover

My hubby loves, loves, loves Shepherd's Pie. No, this is not a dish that is very unhealthy to begin with, but I tweaked the usual recipe to keep inline with our healthier eating habits. This couldn't be easier and even my pickiest eaters went for it (healthy modifications and all).

I started by browning a pound of locally raised ground turkey with some diced onion. Then I got my organic carrots and potatoes boiling...

After the ground turkey had browned, I added about 1 1/2 cups of water and 2 Tbsp give or take of arrowroot powder to thicken the water and juices from the turkey to make gravy. As soon as it was as thick as I wanted it, I added organic peas and corn as well as the carrots I had cooked. 

Next, I mashed my potatoes,  flavored them with some nice sea salt and tarragon, then layered them over the meat and veggie mixture.

Served with some banana muffins I made, it made a relatively fast and very yummy dinner.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Easy Non-Toxic Air Freshener

But, first...I am super excited to say that I got a new camera! Woohoo! No more crummy, washed-out, poorly-lit photos. Yay!!

And now for the air-freshener. This is the epitome of easy projects. I saw this simple, all-natural air freshener on Pinterest recently and had to try it. I had everything I needed on hand, including the cute little jar.

All you need for this project is baking soda, essential oil of your choice and a small jar with a lid. I had a few of these small, squat jars (I can't remember what size they are - maybe a pint?) and they are really the perfect shape and size for this project. 

Just fill the jar approximately 1/4 full with baking soda...

Then add several drops of essential oil - I used about a dozen drops give or take. In this batch, I decided to go with lemon - it's one of the most economical oils and shoot, it just smells purdy. Lavender would also be a really nice scent to use as would geranium. How about cinnamon in the fall or around the holidays? 

I mixed it around a tiny bit and then screwed on the lid. After that, just take a hammer and nail and make several holes in the top to let the scent escape.

Then, I added a ribbon to dress it up a bit...

And put it in the bathroom to try out! It smells really nice and I'm hopeful the scent will last quite a while. Of course, to refresh it, you can just add more oil or dump it and start over when you feel like a new scent. Cool!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Garden Window Spring Makeover

You know how when you look at something everyday, you stop really noticing it? Well, for some reason, last week, I looked at the garden window over my kitchen sink and thought "Wow, that looks really boring and neglected." Not the look I was going for. Here is a "before" picture (please excuse the poor picture quality - my camera died and I am improvising with a phone until I get a new one)...

How about those dirty dishes in the sink? And, doesn't Ajax just say "spring" to you? Just keeping it real. Anyway, I wanted something simple, clean, spring-i-fied (that a word?), and free. So, I shopped the house and came up with a basic vignette that I can add to as funds allow. 

I decided on a platter and a grape ivy in a weathered galvanized bucket (love the farmhouse look!) and a plaque with one of my favorite verses on it. Then I just added some lilacs and lavender from my yard to "spring it up" a little and a candle.

The colors are not as washed out as they appear in the photos, but this area definitely needs a pop of spring color. Hopefully when we head down the mountain in the next few days for our weekly town day, I can check out what Hobby Lobby has in the way of spring decor. C'mon sales!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Serving as a Family

As a Christian home schooling mom, I consider teaching my kids to serve to be one of my top priorities. It is not something "to do when they get older" or "when they are ready". I strongly believe that serving needs to be core in our daily lives. I need to teach them why we serve and how to serve. The basic act of meeting needs is one of the simplest ways we can participate in the Great Commission. That said, I also have a huge responsibility to serve in a way that is safe for my kids, age-appropriate and preferably teaches us all something too. Since I have children in a wide range of ages, I have found it is best to serve as a family. Here are some of the more structured ways we have served:

When we are presented with a service opportunity, we ask ourselves if we have time. We guard our time knowing that the most important ministry we have in this season of life is our own children. But, that must be balanced with being intentional about teaching service. If the answer is yes, we do have time or want to make time, then we ask if we can serve together. Sometimes mom, dad, and the teenagers are working while the younger kids are participating in the program. Other times, we are all working together, right down to our youngest child. It just depends on the work we are doing. 

I also believe that serving does not need to be a scheduled event. Those things are good too and definitely have their place, but I love it when we can just be ready, at the Holy Spirit's leading to serve. Some simple things we do to be available to serve are:

  • Realizing that we can serve our family in a myriad of ways everyday and intentionally finding ways to do that.
  • Keeping the common areas of the house ready (or close to ready - 15 min worth of tidying or less) for impromptu company. Honestly, I have struggled a ton with this one. I have a major pride issue here centered around having my house look "right". I am tons better than I used to be (when I just wouldn't have anybody over unless it was spotless) but am not where I want to be yet. I am able now, to frequently have people over, but still feel that prideful twinge looking around and seeing things that could look nicer. But, I am so convicted that making our home available for God's use is one of the most important things we can do. He blessed us with our homes and they truly should be used in any way He sees fit. It is my desire to show hospitality to anyone He brings to my door and be sensitive to His leading when He nudges me to invite someone over. I hope to write more about this soon - He has been up to a lot in this department lately!
  • Keeping a plastic bin in the back of the car filled with pre-packed lunch bags for the homeless. I read about this idea from Lorrie Flem several years ago and loved it! We packed our bags with non-perishable items from the dollar store like vienna sausages for protein, apple sauce, water bottles, granola bars, sunscreen (in the summer), Bible tracts and sometimes gift cards for fast food or a single dollar (enough to use for a value menu fast food item, but not enough to buy something detrimental). This is a good reminder for me to stock up another bin with these bags!
  • Keeping the pantry well-stocked with basic items that can either stretch a meal for extra guests, or can be quickly made into a meal or treat to take to someone.
  • Keeping a bit of extra bedding on hand plus a Hide-A-Mat from Costco (only $48!)  for extra sleeping space.
  • Listening! This is so simple but so effective. I have heard about so many needs that I could simply meet by just paying attention. We have been able to provide Christmas gifts for kids whose dad was unemployed, taken meals to people who needed them, given rides to those who didn't have one, and "scooted over to make room for one more" when someone needed a place to stay, a meal to eat or just an ear to listen. 
How do you and your family serve? I love hearing new ideas! And, how is God asking you to serve in the future?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Olive Nation: A Product Review

*Update: I just found out that Olive Nation has these on sale right now for 15% off. Just enter coupon code EXT15. Offer expires 04/21/12.

Recently I won an awesome giveaway at Heavenly Homemakers  for a $25 gift certificate to Olive Nation. Woohoo! Olive Nation is a great resource for all kinds of healthy and yummy foods. I splurged on several fun things like premium olive oil, a bag of quinoa and a bottle of strawberry extract. I was the most excited about the extract. I have only really tried the usual suspects like vanilla, almond and mint, so using something completely different sounded fun!

The first thing I used it in was a strawberry smoothie. This is the recipe I came up with:

1 c ice cubes
3 bananas broken up in chunks
2-3 c frozen organic strawberries
1 c coconut milk
1 c (+ more if necessary for desired consistency) water
3 Tbsp ground flaxseed

I have to say, these were amazing. The kids liked it so much I had to make a second pitcher. The strawberry flavor was really nice - not fake tasting at all. The extract enhanced the strawberry flavor in a really pleasant way.  It was so fresh and re-mindful of a homemade strawberry milkshake - creamy and good!

Next, I wanted to try it in something baked, so I made a double batch of strawberry muffins this morning. I came up with this recipe:

For 24 muffins:

4 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour (or fresh ground)
1/3 c sucanat
1/3 c turbinado
2 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp real salt
3 c chopped frozen organic strawberries
4 eggs
1 c water (could use milk but we are sensitive to dairy so we use good ole' water)
1 c yogurt (we used coconut yogurt)
2/3 c melted palm shortening (non-hydrogenated) or coconut oil

I know I should mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately and then combine, but honestly, I just dumped everything into my Kitchenaid and blended it. It came out great!

I spooned the batter into 24 lined muffin cups and topped with this strudel topping:

1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c turbinado
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp (give or take, you may need to adjust a bit to get the right consistency - I did) palm shortening.

Work these ingredients with a fork until it resembles course crumbs. Then just spoon over each muffin.

I baked these at 425 for 20 minutes and then popped out to cool. 

The muffins were really good too! I was so pleased. They passed the kid test and even were requested again later in the day. Since I made so many, I popped one dozen into the big freezer to have on hand as a convenience food for later. Again, the extract was not a phony strawberry flavor. It was so subtle in the muffins that I think I will actually use at least 2 tsp next time if not more. 

I was really impressed with Olive Nation's product and would definitely recommend it. And, I really want to try some of their other amazing sounding flavors like blackberry, apricot, peach, pear and how about chai for the holidays! Yum!!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are Fresh Eggs Worth It?

We started keeping chickens quite a while ago and love our organic free-range eggs. However, as the price of chicken feed creeps up and up along with everything else, I really wonder if it wouldn't be more economical to just buy local organic eggs at the health food store. Our Costco also carries organic eggs for a fairly good price (although they are definitely not local). 

In an effort to avoid GMO corn and soy in any form, we have recently switched over to an organic feed, which is, of course, more expensive. In anticipation of this switch, I began free-ranging our birds so they could find a large portion of their diet on their own and be healthier for it into the bargain. The idea was to use less commercial feed and let them forage for the rest. They also receive a good amount of kitchen scraps almost daily. 

Even so, organic chicken feed does make a significant dent in the budget. We seem to go through about a bag of feed a week at about $22 a bag. We have a large family and so, keep a largish flock (seems like about 20 or so). This keeps us in eggs most of the time, with a few to share and/or barter with friends and neighbors now and then. 

Any experienced chicken keepers our there with wisdom to share? Is there a way to use even less commercial feed and make this enterprise more lucrative? I plan to research vermiculture and am open to growing some extra produce for the "girls" as a couple of alternatives to just buying bags of feed all the time. How do you stay in the green with your chickens?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Saving Money 

While I am extremely blessed to have a husband who has an amazing work ethic and a very good job, we have been feeling the effects of a depressed economy. Food and gas are not luxury items, but they might as well be for the prices we are paying for them! I have, over the years, looked for and implemented a variety of ways to save some green, and have decided it's time to do that again. I think we have become a little too relaxed about our spending and have slipped into some less than frugal habits. I want to start with a few simple goals, and once those are in place, move on from there. 

Recently, I purchased Crystal Paine's book, The Money Saving Mom's Budget. I love her practical, encouraging and simple advice. She also blogs at The Money Saving Mom where she shares frugal ideas and inspiration for making your money go farther. I have begun to implement some of her ideas, including some serious decluttering (which has already saved me money when I located some True Value Rewards coupons which I was able to put toward some hardward purchases), as well as getting great ideas about created a food budget. So, I have come up with these goals for the next few weeks and then will  evaluate what to do next when I have checked these off:

  1. Finalize food budget and successfully implement for three months.
  2. Downgrade Netflix to streaming only.
  3. Transition to once a month shopping (except for fresh purchases like produce - these must be cash purchases and budgeted for).
  4. Commit to cash-only spending for three months.
  5. Research getting rid of satellite and replacing with Netflix, Hulu, etc.
  6. Get organized and make a plan for making regular freezer meals.
  7. Add four raised beds to grow more of our own fruits and veggies.
  8. Make improvements to chicken coop and implement a routine for egg collection and cleaning to ramp up egg production.
  9. Eliminate at least one car trip a week (combine trips, carpool, etc...)
  10. Start hanging out several loads of laundry a week.
Hopefully these goals will be easy to achieve. I think with commitment, some organization and planning we be able to save money! How do you hang on to your hard earned dollars?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Smoothie Kits

Recently we were blessed to receive (for free!!!) a practically new upright freezer from a friend who is moving. So, I am working to fill it with yummy and healthy food. I especially would like some homemade convenience foods, made from great ingredients, to have on hand when I need something quick. I checked out Pinterest for some ideas and came across some really creative ones! One of my favorites was a smoothie kit. I made five up to try and have loved having a healthy whole foods breakfast ready in minutes with no prep work. 

For ours I used:

2 c bananas sliced 1" thick
2 c organic strawberries sliced in half
1 c organic blueberries
3 Tbsp orange juice concentrate
2 Tbsp ground flax seed

I put all the ingredients in a gallon size freezer Ziploc and repeated four more times :) It was fast and easy to make several at once. On Pinterest, one person froze yogurt into muffin cups and popped one cup into each kit. I definitely want to try that next time.  

When ready to use, just pour ingredients into blender, fill with water or milk or milk alternative half-way up pitcher and blend! I have also been known to add in a big handful of baby spinach (which is nearly undetectable when done this way, and really boosts the nutrient content), raw honey, coconut milk, coconut oil and bee pollen. The cool thing about smoothies (no pun intended!) is that you can sneak in all kinds of super healthy things and even the most picky eaters will seldom be the wiser. Heh heh heh. Score one for mom.

Monday, March 19, 2012

On the Homestead 

We have a loose goal around here of moving slowly toward self-sufficiency. We aren't too militant about it since we are newbies to this rural farm-life. But, we do want to progress toward growing a substantial amount of our own food. So, we picked out a site for our fledgling orchard and brought home a whopping four new baby trees. We picked out persimmon, plum and two varieties of apples. I think we need to get another plum for pollination and I'm not sure if the persimmon needs a buddy to pollinate with.

Next, we added a berry patch. We put in two kinds of blueberry bushes, four varieties of raspberries and one blackberry. I am so excited for berries! They are so expensive at the store, even more so for organic, and the thought of being able to pick tons of them from our own garden is so cool! I can hardly wait to make pies and cobblers and crisps!

And, since I really want to build and maintain a well-stocked pantry, I put in an Azure Standard order for pantry staples such as apples, oats, baking soda, shampoo, pasta and other necessities. I love Azure. My goal is to shop only once a month. So far, we have transitioned from weekly shopping to every other week. Now, I would like to mostly order from Azure and then just fill in for fresh things  like produce and raw milk from our tiny but wonderful little health food store up here in the mountains. I really want to find out if we save money shopping this way. I am guessing that just the fact that we are staying out of the stores by shopping only every four weeks will save a lot.

My next goals are to transplant the seedlings we started several weeks ago into larger pots, add another couple of trees, add four more planter boxes and start lettuces, spinach and kale in tubs. That's what's going on on the homestead!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Freedom Baby!

My poor chickens have been cooped up (literally) for about a year after an ill-conceived decision to purchase a trio of guinea hens. Those guineas decided to declare war on my hens and killed at least one if not more. So, we had to keep the chickens locked safely in their coop and yard. Fast-forward one year and two of those guineas have been "taken care of" by coyotes. Without the other two, the third one has decided "if you can't beat them, join them" and has assimilated into the flock fairly well. The only thing I have caught it doing is herding the girls back into the coop just after they were let out. It gave up after awhile and just went with the flow. So, now we are "go" for free-ranging again! 

Wahoo! I have missed those bright orange yolks and the cheerful sight of hens scratching around in the grass. More importantly, since I have to feed substantially less when I free range, I can afford to finally switch over to a soy-free organic feed. I am so excited to have free-ranged organic eggs!