Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Taco Pizza

When my family decided to start eating whole, natural foods, we knew that we were going to have to give up certain things. Some were easier than others, then there were those that brought tears and tantrums, usually from my hubby or me! One favorite that we could not give up was pizza. Now instead of ordering out (which is difficult when you live 12 miles from town and expensive to boot!), we make our own! This is our version of "Taco Pizza".

Taco Pizza

2 Tbl. yellow cornmeal
2 C. pkg. biscuit mix (try to find one that doesn't have hydrogenated fats, or make your own!)
1/2 C. cold water
1 lb. ground beef, turkey or chicken
1-15 oz. can refried beans (we use black!)
1 C. shredded lettuce
1 C. chopped tomato
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1-4 oz. can green chilies, chopped
1 envelope low-sodium taco seasoning (or make your own)
1 C. shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterrey jack, mozzarella, or a combination)
taco sauce to taste
tortilla chips
sliced olives

Generously grease a 12" pizza pan, or a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with cornmeal. In a bowl, combine biscuit mix and the 1/2 cup cold water. Stir with fork until dough follows fork around bowl. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead 5 or 6 times. Roll to 14" circle or pat onto cookie sheet. Crimp the edges. In skillet, brown meat and drain off any fat. Add 3/4 cup of water, taco seasoning and chilies; bring to boil. Reduce heat & simmer uncovered for 15 min. or until thick. Spread beans on dough. Top with meat mixture. Bake 18-20 minutes. Top with cheese and bake 4 minutes more. Cut in wedges or squares. Garnish with lettuce, tomatoes, olives and onions. Drizzle with taco sauce. Crush tortilla chips and sprinkle over all just before serving!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gratituesday~Friends & Vacations

Last year, our very good friends, Jeff & Jan, took us to one of the their favorite places to camp. When they invited us, I of course, wanted to know about the "facilities". (Hey, we still have 6 kids at home and I have "needs"!) They were a little cagey with their response, but I got the gist...there were no facilities! My first thought was, "Who does that, on purpose?" It was almost enough to keep me home! After all, we aren't animals, right? Sometimes, I like surprises. This was one of those times.

Can you believe that I almost missed out on this? Safe and predictable almost won out.

Needless to say, this beautiful place has become my favorite home-away-from home. It is a place of relaxation, away from the noise of cars, phones, and the never-ending hum of electronics. A place untouched by greed and power. A place that most people would never venture into because of the lack of modern day amenities! It is also a place that makes me feel so close to our Creator, that I can almost hear Him whisper, "because I love you...".

We've been back several times since that weekend with our friends. Each time, I fall more in love with the mountains and thank God for our friends who shared this very special place with us.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grocery shopping results for 9/28

In my previous post, I stated that I only had a grocery budget of $75 to feed our family on this week. That's what I had left after ordering 25# of organic bread flour for $24.95! Our actual budget is $100 per week and every other month we allow an extra $100 to replace staple items, such as coffee, flour, salt, etc... For a family of 8 (still eating at home!) that doesn't stretch very far!

We are blessed to be able to live on a large piece of property where we can raise our own eggs and beef. Without that, I imagine our bill would be closer to $150/week! Except for the occassional package of chicken, I'm able to skip (happily, I might add!) right on by the meat department! This week, I casually "strolled" through the chicken section!

Grocery Outlet

2 boxes of organic beef $1.98
2 quarts 1/2 & 1/2 $3.78
T.P. $6.99 (very important to stay ahead on this one!)
2 gallons milk $5.98

Winco Foods

Bulk organic granola (3.57#) $8.25
Pineapple juice $2.99
Lemon juice $3.02
Fish sauce $3.25
1 can of green chilies $1.48
Large can of frozen orange juice $1.98
1 box of black tea bags $4.22
2 lbs. cheddar $4.98
Coriander $3.70
Spinach $3.98
2 bags of frozen corn $2.76
Chicken drumsticks (1.18#) $4.31
Bulk elbow macaroni (1.46#) $0.93
Bulk cornstarch (1.46#) $1.11
Sour cream $2.93
Bulk organic sugar (4.87#) $4.72
2 bunches of green onions $1.16
2 small lemons $0.56
Tortilla chips $2.58

Grand total~$77.87

Whenever possible, I try to purchase organic products. While this is a personal preference for my family, I realize that it is not for everyone. When deciding what makes the "organic" list, I determine how much of it our family is using. For instance, coffee is something that 4 people in my family consume on a daily basis. Most coffees are made with too many chemicals to fathom, so we choose to order organic coffee from a semi-local business. We also only use organic cereals. As a homeschool mom/teacher, it can be impossible to teach if my children are on sugar highs or freaking out on food dyes! It is extremely important to read labels!!!! If you cannot pronounce the ingredients, DO NOT BUY IT!!!!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Meal Plan for 9/28-10/4

Whew! We made it through last week's marathon! Between running kids to college (that's embarrassing), Dr. appts., a driving test, church, and volunteering (daughter), we also managed to spend a little time in the emergency room with my father-in-law! (No worries, he broke his foot doing "man" stuff!) If that wasn't enough, we squeezed in a little family time at the farmer's market and lost ourselves in a corn maze before heading home to can more tomatoes and pickles! This week will be a little easier, my son passed his driving test! Well, physically it will be easier...mentally, we shall see...

This is back-to-school week for Jabez Academy. The weather is turning wet and the apples are needing sauced, dried and buttered. There are more tomatoes to can, but I can already tell, it's going to be a great week!

Here's what we're eating this week!

~Oatmeal w/blueberries
~Peanut butter & jam sandwiches, sliced carrots, apple
~Homemade macaroni & cheese, baked chicken, green salad

~French toast, orange juice
~Homemade tomato soup, crackers, apples
~Baked French fries, roast, zucchini/tomato casserole

~Cream of wheat w/peaches
~simple Taco salad
~Split pea soup, cornbread

~Sausage/egg casserole
~Lentil/veggie soup, crackers, apple
~Quinoa, meatloaf, corn

~Apple Pan Goody
~Homemade pizza pockets, Berry slushies
~Chicken & dumpling soup, spinach salad

~Monkey bread, cocoa (special treat)
~Plum smoothies, apples w/ peanut butter
~Thai Cashew Chicken, green salad

~Beef stew w/ sourdough
~Apple pie for dessert!

My goal is to keep the grocery bill under $75 this week. Last week I ran out of a lot of staples and ended up going WAY over budget. Lesson learned? Check the pantry cupboards often and space out replacing staple items so I don't have to buy them all at once!

Making pesto sauce

My family and I spent yesterday visiting our local farmer's market and taking a trip to a "semi" local farm, where the honored guest seemed to be pumpkins. I love this time of year, passing all of the fields and seeing the beautiful orange globes lying everywhere. Mixed into the lush green landscape, this is art at its best. Pumpkins are not the only produce to be admired though. Now is the time to pick up great deals on apples, pears, winter squashes, potatoes, tomatoes and basil.

I have a difficult time growing basil at my house. If I start too early, the wet weather rots my plants. In the summer, it's too hot...or maybe I forget to water them...! When using the greenhouse, I have to worry about rodents. (This is where I *shudder*!) I've just never had too much luck with basil, but my family LOVES it! I usually buy a tray of organic basil each week and keep it on the counter, in a jar (or cute coffee mug) of water, as a reminder of the delicious meals it is going to end up in. The smell of this pungent herb, follows me, just begging for a dish that is as worthy as thee. Too dramatic? Basil is worth the extra me. If you haven't used fresh basil before, here is an easy sauce to prepare.

Homemade Basil Pesto Sauce

1 bunch basil leaves, no stems (approx. 1/2 -3/4 cup
4-6 cloves of garlic (we use 6, but our neighbors don't live too close!
1/4 cup pine nuts (in a pinch, I've also used walnuts)
2-3 Tbl. grated Parmesan (not the canned stuff)
olive oil (I haven't measured this, but start with 1/3 cup)

Place basil, garlic and pine nuts in food processor. While running on low speed, gradually start adding olive oil. Add until the consistency is a semi-thick liquid. Add the cheese and just pulse to blend. (You do not have to heat this up, the heat from the pasta will heat it up for you.)

Mix with your favorite pasta and be the superstar of the meal!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Laundry 101

I do a lot of laundry. I mean, A LOT of laundry. Having 9 children makes me somewhat of an expert on laundry. I don't hate doing laundry, but I'm not singing and dancing when I see/smell my youngest son packing a basket that is twice his size, down the hall. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the laundry baskets are magically filling up while we are sleeping because I sure don't remember my kids wearing that many articles of clothing! No matter how many kids have left the "nest", (3 at last count!), the laundry pile never really seems to decrease in size. And my washer is going ALL DAY!

When my husband & I started breaking down our grocery bill, we discovered that about 30% was going to laundry soap, fabric softeners, and other miscellaneous cleaners! That is almost 1/3 of our food bill!!! Yikes! I know that I would rather buy food, the kind that you can eat, more than I want to do laundry! Then there was the unexplained rashes that only a few of my children had. My husband is an emergency room nurse, but also worked in pediatrics for a few years, and said that it was dermatitis, probably caused by allergies. Now, I'm no a rocket scientist or anything, but shouldn't soap that has LESS ingredients, COST LESS? So, what's a girl to do?

I had read about making homemade laundry soap and thought it was too complicated for me to try. Of course, the book that I read it in, was about life in the good old "pioneer days"! So, it WAS complicated. I mean, where does one purchase lye? And using wood ashes? Huh? I thought the idea was to clean my clothes, not burn my skin off or make the dirt worse by using ashes! I decided that homemade soap was NOT for me.

Then I read a couple of modern day articles about soap. 4 ingredients. And one of them is water! I might be able to do this! So one day, with my husband's help, we made our first batch of laundry soap. The articles had different variations of the same ingredients, so we had to play around with it a little to find what worked for us. We have well water that is treated with salt, so it is really soft. We just increased the bar soap a little. It smells a little like lemons, but leaves no scent of any kind behind. I didn't know if I liked that. I wanted my clothes to smell like they had been washed, so I added another ingredient.

Homemade laundry soap

1/2 cup Borax
1/2 cup Washing Soda (Arm & Hammer has one)
1/2 bar of Fels Naptha soap, grated
1 tsp. essential oil (I use lemongrass, but you can use lavender, orange, whatever you like)
(1) 5-gallon bucket (we use an old kitty litter bucket that has a lid)

Grate 1/2 bar of Fels Naptha into large pot. I use my food processor, it washes clean. Add 6 cups of water and heat it until the soap melts. Don't stand there stirring it the whole time, or you won't be able to tell when the soap is melted through all of the suds! Add the Borax and washing soda. Stir and remove from heat. Pour 4 cups of hot water into bucket. Add soap mixture and stir. Add an additional 22 cups of cold water. After you make this the first time, mark on your bucket where the water line is at the end. This keeps you from having to measure out 22 cups everytime! Stir in essential oil.

Let your soap sit overnight. It doesn't look like store bought soap, but it works very well! A friend of mine keeps her laundry soap in old liquid laundry containers so she doesn't have to keep a bucket on display. Wish I would've thought of that!

To save even more money, use white vinegar instead of fabric softener, (I promise, your clothes will NOT smell like pickles!) and line dry your clean clothes! I use my clothesline from spring until the fall rains defeat the whole "drying" purpose. Then I bring them indoors, where my hubby ingeniously hung 2 nifty little dryers (from Ikea) with pulley systems, over our wood stove. The dryer rarely gets used. Maybe that's why we have had the same dryer for almost all of our 22 years of marriage! And the rashes? They are gone. Now, if only we could figure out how to make the laundry disappear!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Easy Summer Curried Chicken Salad

We got another blast of summer here in the Pacific Northwest. They don't come often, but when they do, we take full advantage of the beautiful weather! More often than not, we are under a "marine layer"...which translate to "cloudy with a very slim chance of sunshine". I'm only slightly exaggerating, but you get my point.

When we do get warmer weather, I try to keep the house cool by not using the oven/stove. (We have wood stoves here, not air conditioning units!) Summer heat is a good time to experiment with salads! And sometimes, the kids even like them!

Summer Curried Chicken Salad

3 (12.5 oz.) cans of white chicken meat
1/2 large, sweet, red pepper; diced
2 stalks celery; diced small
1-2 cups red grapes; halved (personal preference)
1/2 cup chopped pecans; toasted
mayonnaise (I used approx. 3/4 cup, use what you like)
2 tsp. curry powder
sea salt, to taste
lettuce of your choice (I used baby romaine)

Mix everything, except the lettuce, together in large bowl. Place cut-up lettuce on individual plates and put a scoop (or 2) on top of lettuce. (I used an ice-cream scoop.) Serves 8.

I thought the kids would want some ranch dressing on it too, but decided to wait until they asked for it. They never did! They did ask that I make this again tomorrow! Score 1 for Mom!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


In thinking about what I was grateful for today, many things come to mind. I'm grateful for my family, my husband's great job that allows me to stay at home, the view from our living room window, and the ability to teach my children at home, just to name a few!
This week, we have a lot of things going on. 2 of our children started classes at the community college, our eldest son had a driver's test (and passed!), there is more canning to do, and outdoor projects that need completing before winter. The thought of pulling the schoolbooks out this week has left me quivering in my boots. Actually, I'm not wearing boots...which reminds me to take the kids into the tack store and get them boots! Another thing to put on the list.
I am so grateful to be able to hold off on the traditional schoolwork until the summer projects have been finished! I remember sitting a classroom, staring outside in September, wondering why I had to be in a class when the good weather was just getting started! (Pacific Northwest summers do NOT start until July 5!) It makes my heart sing to watch my children running around the field, catching grasshoppers, or building yet another fort with Daddy's good lumber. Even though there is no guidebook to teach them how to catch the hoppers, or a manual to teach them "proper" building techniques, they are still learning. Just in an untraditional way. There will be plenty of time for book-learnin'...summer is in full swing here at our farm, and for that, I am grateful.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Meal Plan for 9/21-9/27, 2009

This week is going to be hectic! We have the beginning of college, a driving test, youth groups and our second week of school! Oh husband is hunting in the mountains with his buddies! To top it all off, summer decided to rev back up into high gear with the temps. in the 90's!!! That means "no heat" meals for a couple of days! It also means LESS DISHES!!!!! Yep, I'm smiling!

Monday 9/21

-Oatmeal w/ blueberries

-Smoked trout (vacation trophies!), cream cheese, crackers, grapes

-Salmon patties, spicy baked cowboy fries, coleslaw

Tuesday 9/22

-Whole wheat waffles with marionberry syrup (homemade)

-Yogurt/Fruit smoothies, whole wheat bagels w/ peanut butter

Wednesday 9/23

-Chili nachos with sliced apples (leftover chili from Sunday dinner)

-Chicken salad with homemade bread sticks

Thursday 9/24

-Homemade tomato soup, crackers, sliced apples

-Homemade fettucine noodles, pesto sauce, green salad

-Tuna wraps, tortilla chips, salsa

-Red beans and rice, cornbread, sliced carrots

Saturday 9/26

-Whole wheat French toast w/ pumpkin syrup

-granola bars, fruit

-Homemade chicken noodle soup, sourdough rolls, green salad

Sunday 9/27

-Yogurt/granola parfaits

-Taco soup, cornbread

-apple pie ala mode

Sunday's we tend to eat early, so I don't worry about "lunch". In our house, it's called "Linner". For our youngest son, Matthew, it is the kiss of death, so we usually have a yummy dessert in the evening. Then all is right again in the world.

The Gym

One of my favorite movies of all time is "Steel Magnolia's". No matter how many times I've watched this, (at least 30, so far!) it still causes my eyes to "leak"! There are so many parts of the movie that make me laugh as well. Too many to just choose one favorite. Well, actually, there is one. Olympia Dukakis's character, Clairee, says to Ouiser (Shirley MacLane) (while watching the mayor's wife dancing at a wedding), "Looks like two pigs, fightin' under a blanket."

Today, while getting ready for church, I could relate.

I changed 4 times. And wasn't happy with any of my choices! At first, I thought my clothes had shrunk. Problem was, 2 of the shirts had never been worn! Of course, I then started thinking about everything I had eaten in the last 24 hours to see if maybe sodium was the culprit. You know, "salt bloat"? But no, I think that bloating is only really seen in the abdomen area (and maybe the ankles!), not the chest area.

So, today I made a decision.

Starting tomorrow (famous last words!) I will get back into an exercise routine. After all, I have the equipment. I think it's equipment anyway. Hard to see it with all the coats, rags and boxes laying on them...but I'm sure they are under there somewhere. Today, I will go downstairs and uncover (and dust) the treadmill, bicycle, and weight machine. I will hang a towel, sync my Ipod, and find my workout pants.

Tomorrow, I will throw away the excuses and actually become proactive in my exercise regime. After all, who wants to look at "2 pigs fighting under a blanket"?

Of course, I could wake up and the "swelling" will have gone down!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tomatoes...and green beans

Oh my goodness. My garden went berserk. No longer a beautiful plot of fresh-tilled earth, that held the promise of things to come, or even the lush green oasis that we had nurtured it into, this garden has become my nightmare. It has let me down. In the past, I could always count on my garden to do certain things. Things that I have come to expect. Not this. See, I know that every year, my husband diligently tills the soil for me. Then I grid off the 4x4 beds before the children help us plant the green & shell beans, corn, peas, onions, lettuce, spinach, tomato/pepper/cucumber plants, and anything else that has caught our eyes in the mid-winter catalogs. I know that we will spend an entire afternoon planting these. I also know that as soon as the seeds start to poke their tender little heads from the earth, the crows will come in and annihilate them. I can count on another Saturday spent bending over the beds, replanting and then staking berry netting over each bed, hoping that nobody (that would be me!) trips over the almost invisible nets. I can then count on a few mole hills popping up around the potato beds and my husband planting traps in the ground. I can also count on the buckets that he puts over the traps to not stay where he put them. (Nobody knows how this happens!) Then I anxiously wait for the tomatoes to put on their bright yellow blooms and know that the little green tomatoes won't be too far behind. I can also count on the tomatoes either falling off (again, no idea!) or an unexpected ( for some, but not for me) freeze turns them all black. And I KNOW that the deer will find my little oasis and nibble off all of the little green beans, if they hadn't already feasted on the flowers! I can count on the corn growing to be about 4 feet tall and never setting an ear of corn on the stalks.


This year, the garden decided to do what it is supposed to do. Produce!!!! And I wasn't expecting it. I was not expecting the 22 tomato plants to actually perform. All at once. I did not expect the 4 pyramids of pole beans to get a second wind, or the bush beans (good back-up plan) to outshine the weeds! Nor did I expect the corn to grow to be 12 feet tall, with ears on them, or the amaranth to grow seed heads, or the cucumbers to give us enough to pickle, but they have. And because I wasn't expecting all of this, I obtained tomatoes, beans, and cukes from a local farm! So, my pantry is full, the produce freezer has over-flowed into the meat freezer and my dehydrator is starting to glow. And I have beans and tomatoes to can.

And I can't stop smiling!

End of the Season Spicy Dilly Beans

Wash 4 lbs. whole green beans and snap off ends. Cut in uniform lengths to fit into wide-mouth pint jars.

Combine: 5 cups apple cider vinegar
6 cups water
1/2 cup non-iodized canning salt

Heat to boiling.

Pack beans in clean, hot jars.

To each jar, add: 1/2 tsp. dill seed
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1-2 cloves peeled garlic

Cover beans with vinegar mixture to 1/2" from top of jar. Wipe jar rim clean. Seal jar with hot lids and screw tight. Process in boiling water bath for 10-15 minutes.


Friday, September 18, 2009

MSG-free Ranch Dressing Mix

I am a HUGE fan of salads! I love green, pasta, coleslaw and bean salads! I especially love the summer months when most ingredients come fresh from my organic garden! But, there is a bad side to salads...the dressing. And oh, how I love dressing. Almost as much as I love the salad.

Everyone knows about the "hidden" fats in dressings, but some don't realize that a lot of "name brand" dressings have MSG hidden in them! Reading labels are very important, but understanding what the ingredients actually are is even more so! Here is a partial list of the "alias's" of MSG: Autolyzed yeast, calcium caseinate, gelatin, glutamate, glutamic acid, hydrolyzed plant protein, hydrolyed protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, natural flavor (Huh? And here I thought "natural" meant "from the outdoors"!), protein hydrolysate, sodium caseinate, textured protein, yeast extract, yeast food and yeast nutrient. This is only a few of the names. For more info on the names and effects of MSG, just type MSG in your Google box! You will be amazed at the links!

So, how do I dress-up my salads? Fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice, raw honey mixed with a little dijon mustard, and balsamic vinegar mixed with a little olive oil are some of my favorites. Then there are the times when Ranch dressing is the only way to go! So I make up my own and store it in a squeeze bottle for quick toppings to salads and a nice dip for sliced veggies.

Dry Ranch Dressing Mix

5 Tbl. minced onions
1 tsp. garlic powder
4 tsp. sea salt
3 1/2 Tbl. parsley flakes

Mix and pour into an airtight container.

To make dressing: Mix 1 cup buttermilk, 1 cup mayonnaise (read the labels!) & 1 Tbl. ranch mix.
To make dip: Mix 1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt with 1 Tbl. ranch mix.

I don't know where I got this recipe, but we have used it for years and now can't touch the store-bought stuff! And after reading the labels, who would want to?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In the kitchen...

As a wife and mom, I understand the importance of good nutrition. Especially when I'm married to an emergency room nurse! Good nutrition provides fuel for both body and mind and helps protect against diseases & infections. (Among many other things!) But eating "healthy" can be intimidating to some. It can also be BORING! One of the things that I enjoy, is to take a recipe and "tweak" it a little. Not so much that it is unrecognizable, or could be used for hockey practice, but enough to know there is some nutritional reason to eat it! Face it, if the husband and kids won't eat it (*ahem*, pumpkin soup!) then it isn't really worth my time to prepare it. I try to use whole foods as much as possible, although, if you see us camping, please don't comment on the hot dogs (nitrate/nitrite free) or the cheetos (baked)'s hard to cook a wholesome meal while sitting on a boat with my fishing pole in the water!

Sometimes, good nutrition can cost more than, say, a case of ramen noodles. But really, when you factor in the cost of future visits to the doctor's office, I'd say healthier options are really the better "deal"! There are ways to cut costs though. First, plan ahead. Take a few minutes to go through your cupboards, refrigerator/freezer, pantry, garden and plan your meals for the next week. Only 1 week. For me, I plan on Sunday night, and grocery shop on Monday morning. You would be surprised at how many meals you can make with ingredients that you already have! Make sure to include breakfasts, lunches, dinner, special occassions and snacks! Second, only buy what you need. Yep. That's a hard one. But if you have planned and made a list, it is easier. Third, if you have a store that has bulk bins, use them! I used to think that they were gross. I mean, really, how many fingers have touched these bins? Usually, the things that I need, small children are NOT tasting! (Have you ever tried ground ginger, plain?) Stick with only what you need. If you are buying spices, only get enough to refill your empty jar, otherwise, it is just a waste! (*Hint*Most bulk bins use codes for the twistie ties, make sure to write on the other end what you have just bagged. Onion powder and garlic powder look an awful lot alike!) Fourth, shop the outside aisles first! Produce, bread, dairy and meats are almost always on the outer edges of the stores. Fill your cart with fresh produce first, but don't neglect the frozen veggies either! Nutritionally speaking, most frozen produce is as good or almost as good as the fresh stuff. And last, but not least, place your meal plan up on the refrigerator for the family to see and stick with it!!!! You can rearrange the order (since you have all the supplies!), and even carry over a meal into the next week if something comes up (like dinner out with hubby!).

Remember, healthy eating doesn't have to break the bank, but with careful planning, it can be tasty and financially rewarding! (Just keep a box of cereal on stand-by, just in case!)