Monday, October 31, 2011

I finally got some pickles!

We went on a cruise last week and stopped in Ponchatoula, Louisiana on the way back.  We found a neat little cafe called Paul's Cafe.  Great food for weary travelers!  Anyway, we were about to leave when we noticed a little craft/farmer's market across the street.  So, we stopped in.  Wouldn't you just know, they had a booth with homemade canned goods!  And they had pickles!  I could only find Bread and Butter but I'd rather have dill.  So, I asked the lady if maybe that booth had dill somewhere.  She read the jar in my hand and said, "These are ing pickles.  I've never had ing pickles.  Maybe they're like dill."  To clear up the confusion...the homemade label on the jar reads "ing: pickles, vinegar, asst spices."  Ing means ingredients!  It's not a type of pickle!  My husband almost lost control right there in the market but thankfully he made it outside before he couldn't contain his laughter anymore.
Thankfully, the other lady standing next to her did inform her that "ing" meant ingredients.  I just couldn't believe how serious she was!  She truly thought there was a type of pickle called an "ing pickle."
We'll not get into the fact that the label should have read "ing: cucumbers, vinegar, asst spices."  Whoever made these didn't start with pickles as an ingredient....she got pickles as a result of the pickling.  Brother....

At least I can rest easy knowing I finally got some pickles.
Here are the beautiful things!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Eggs and Cholesterol

Many people seem to not eat eggs because they are "high in cholesterol" and "bad for you."  Well, I'm convinced eggs got a bad wrap several years ago so lets do a little myth busting.

Here's what Harvard Health has to say about the situation (highlighting is mine):
Fact: Eggs are a good source of nutrients. One egg contains 6 grams of protein and some healthful unsaturated fats. Eggs are also a good source of choline, which has been linked with preserving memory, and lutein and zeaxanthin, which may protect against vision loss.
Fact: Eggs have a lot of cholesterol. The average large egg contains 212 milligrams of cholesterol. As foods go, that’s quite a bit, rivaled only by single servings of liver, shrimp, and duck meat.

Myth: All that cholesterol goes straight to your bloodstream and then into your arteries. Not so. For most people, only a small amount of the cholesterol in food passes into the blood. Saturated and trans fats have much bigger effects on blood cholesterol levels.
Myth: Eating eggs is bad for your heart. The only large study to look at the impact of egg consumption on heart disease—not on cholesterol levels or other intermediaries—found no connection between the two. In people with diabetes, though, egg-a-day eaters were a bit more likely to have developed heart disease than those who rarely ate eggs.
If you like eggs, eating one a day should be okay, especially if you cut back on saturated and trans fats. 

When I researched the Mayo Clinic site I found this:

How much the cholesterol in your diet can increase your blood cholesterol varies from person to person.
When deciding whether to include eggs in your diet, consider the recommended daily limits on cholesterol in your food:
  • If you are healthy, it's recommended that you limit your dietary cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams (mg) a day.
  • If you have cardiovascular disease, diabetes or a high low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") blood cholesterol level, you should limit your dietary cholesterol intake to less than 200 mg a day.
One large egg has about 213 mg of cholesterol — all of which is found in the yolk. Therefore, if you eat an egg on a given day, it's important to limit other sources of cholesterol for the rest of that day. Consider substituting servings of vegetables for servings of meat, or avoid high-fat dairy products for that day.

Mother Earth News compared small farmer’s eggs with commercial store-bought eggs and found differences in everything from cholesterol amount, ratio of omega 3 to 6 fats, and vitamin content.  Go home grown eggs!

Here's my conclusion, it's not that eggs are evil it's just that most Americans have so much fat and cholesterol in their diet that they start to point fingers at eggs.  We know that eggs contain LOTS of good nutrients so why don't we point fingers at chips, fast food burgers, processed food, etc?
Don't blame eggs for high cholesterol! 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chicken Waterer

We like having chickens but we also like to travel so we needed a way to leave them plenty of water that they couldn't tip over.  Chickens will find a way to mess up nearly everything you try to do right so don't think a big bowl of water will last all weekend.  They'll wade in it then knock it over about an hour after you leave.  However, they haven't messed up the waterer I made yet!  I'm making a second one to put in a pen with a hen who is molting.

Here's what a chicken nozzle looks like in case you're not familiar...


*You'll need a bucket.  (We used a 5 gallon bucket for the big pen but I'm using a 2 gallon today for the little pen I'm making.)
*"chicken nozzle" (You can order these pretty cheap online.)
*5/16 drill bit
*7/16 nut driver
*thread seal tape

First, drill a 5/16 hole in the bottom of your bucket.  I'm only putting one nozzle on this bucket but we used three on our big bucket.  So, drill as many holes as you want nozzles (spacing them out, of course).

Next, wrap the nozzle threads in thread seal tape.  This helps create a watertight seal.

Use the 7/16 nut driver to drive the nozzle into the bucket.  Make sure you are putting the threads inside the bucket.  You wouldn't want to do it upside down!

Here's the finished product...

Now, just hang the bucket in your chicken pen and fill it with water.  They can't wade in this water OR tip it over.  Some people say you can freeze a water bottle and drop it in the bucket during the summer to keep the water cool.  I never did.  It didn't seem to get that warm.
You want to hang the bucket at a height where the chickens don't have to squat.  Hang it so they can slightly extend their necks to drink.  Make sure they can all reach it if you have different breeds!

When I first made one I wondered how to show them where the water was since they were used to a bowl.  I read online and most people said to just take away their water bowl and they will figure it out.  Well, they did!  Just monitor your flock to make sure they all figure it out.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Breakfast Burritos

My sister-in-law gave me the recipe for homemade tortillas and inspired these breakfast burritos.
When you try to eat natural you have to learn to do without some things most people are used to.  For us, one of those things was tortillas.  There might be some all-natural, no preservative tortillas out there but I knew there had to be some way to make them.  I just had not found a way until the beautiful day I received an email from my sister-in-law that said, "Do you ever make tortillas?"  NO!  TELL ME HOW!  Well, now I know how and they're fantastic.  So here goes...

By the way, "bp" is baking powder.  I tend to get lazy when I'm writing things in my own cookbook.

The first thing you need to do is gather your ingredients.
 That jar contains "real salt."  We buy it in bulk.  It has a great flavor and an earthy color.

Put the cup of warm water in a large bowl with the oil.  I used filtered water and warmed it on the stove (we choose not to own a microwave) then added it to a large bowl with coconut oil.  Then add the baking powder, salt and flour.  Knead the dough for about a minute until the ingredients are mixed.  Then take a 10 minute break....relax in your recliner, call a friend, paint your nails (wait, don't do that)...

Then, I shaped mine into seven balls.  This made large tortillas.  If you want smaller ones, then shape into 14 smaller balls (you get the idea).  Once you make the balls, roll them very thin.  I wasn't worried about making mine perfectly round...obviously.

Cook them on a lightly greased griddle until done... not brown.  I just used a cast iron skillet.

Here's a trick: if you stack them up after you cook each one, the bottom ones will remain soft and "rollable."  Otherwise, they don't roll into burritos well. 

Here are mine.  Cooked and stacked. They aren't pretty but they're yummy!

Once you finish those, it's time for the next phase of your breakfast burrito....hashbrowns!  I washed several potatoes and grated them on a hand grater.  The process would be faster with a food processor but if you don't mind building some muscle (or if you choose to be old-fashioned like me), break out the hand grater.
Can you tell which potato isn't real?  It's actually my scrubber!
If you're like me, after about two potatoes, your arm is asking you what the punishment is for.
Just persevere and remember, those breakfast burritos will be on your plate before you know it!

Next, toss them in a skillet with hot oil...

Keep flipping them until they're done and brown.  These shown are about half finished.

Once the hashbrowns are done, scramble some eggs and fold those in a tortilla with some hashbrowns.  Add salsa (or blackberry preserves if you're like my hubby) and its time to eat!
*I remembered to take a picture of a finished burrito AFTER we ate them all.  So, you'll have to make them and see for yourself!

Of course, you don't have to make breakfast burritos.  You could fill them with refried beans, cheese, beef....  Let me know how you fix them!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Life is Easy

Life is easy for some members of the homestead!  ....too easy

Cod Liver Oil...YUM

Cod liver oil...doesn't that sound yummy?  Well, in fact, there are many health benefits to taking cod liver oil AND you can buy it in a tasteless capsule.  If you like liver, then there are places where you can order fresh, pure cod liver but, if you're like me and the sight of liver makes you gag, then order a quality supplement.  It can be that easy.  So, don't run away just yet.

It is said that fishermen used to fill a barrel with cod livers and salt water, let it ferment for up to a year then consume the oil or apply it to their skin.  This doesn't sound appealing but research indicates these were very smart fishermen.

Cod liver oil contains certain fatty acids that prevent your blood from clotting easily. These same fatty acids have also been proven to reduce pain and swelling. 

Cod liver oil contains vitamins A & D in addition to  omega 3 fatty acids which can help with:
wounded skin (when applied to the skin)
heart health
reduced mortality for all cancers
damaged hair and nails
healthy vision
boosting your immune system
regulating blood sugar
lowering blood pressure
proper embryonic development
boosting brain power
lowering high triglycerides (by 20% to 50%)
and much more!

Some research even indicates that cod liver oil aids in weight loss....although I'm not sure this has been proven.

The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

  • For lowering triglycerides: 20 mL of cod liver oil per day.
  • For high cholesterol: 30 mL of cod liver oil per day.
  • For lowering blood pressure: 20 mL of cod liver oil per day.  WebMD

Of course, you should do your own research and consult your doctor before you begin taking any supplement including cod liver oil especially if you're pregnant.  However, based on my research, the benefits of taking it are astounding.  Now, this doesn't mean you should continue to eat junk food and count on a supplement to fix your problems.  I'm a firm believer in a healthy diet.  If you maintain a healthy diet/lifestyle and take a supplement like cod liver oil, my opinion is, you're giving your body a fighting chance.  Don't wait until you're older and wish you had.  If you're already older, don't say it's too late.  It's never too late to fuel you're body correctly.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Baked Oatmeal

A sweet friend gave me this recipe and I adapted it for a healthier diet.  I'll husband and I do not like oatmeal made the traditional way but we really like this recipe.  It's completely different than the oatmeal you're used to.  We enjoy it with milk like cereal.
Here's the recipe:
In case you're not familiar, sucanat is basically pure dried sugar cane juice.  It still contains it's molasses.  It has a very nice, rich, almost nutty, flavor.  We buy it in bulk from a natural food company.  You can also purchase it from grocery stores that sell whole foods.

So, gather your ingredients...

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, add the wet ingredients then stir together.
Spread in a 9x13 pan...

Then bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.
Eat it plain or pour some milk over it.  By the way, I like to add a little cocoa to mine before I bake it to give it a slight chocolate flavor.  You can also add nuts, dried fruit or anything else you think might taste good.

Mine will be out of the oven in 20 minutes and I can't wait!

Vote for Good Food!

You vote for President, local officials, PTA President and who should cater the company cookout.  So, why don't you vote for something even more important?  Vote for good food!
This is something that really intrigued me the first time I heard it.

When you go to the grocery store, your purchases are your votes.  For so long, Americans have purchased junk food like meat raised incorrectly, processed foods, breads with preservatives, juice with corn syrup, etc.  What were we thinking?  Why did anyone ever buy that stuff?  Well, it's cheap and it's always available.  However, I have noticed since we started eating more naturally, that it is becoming more and more popular.  Companies are starting to catch on too.  More consumers are starting to purchase foods with an "all natural" label so more companies are starting to offer foods that are more natural.  If you start to buy it, they will offer you more and, eventually, the price will go down.

So, just think about it the next time you go to the grocery store.  You don't have to buy everything natural (unless you're already convinced like I am) but choose a few things.  Spend a few cents more and buy the better chicken, the juice that doesn't contain anything but actual fruit juice, or the "all natural" peanut butter.  You will be able to chalk it up as a vote for better food and I assure you the food companies will notice.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My New Best Friend- Pita Bites

Ok, not really.  My husband is my best friend but these Pita Bites are sooo good!  They are made by Sensible Portions (World Gourmet Marketing) and are all natural with no saturated fat, no trans fat and cholesterol free.  However, the "all natural" part is my favorite.

It's hard to find crackers that don't contain BHT, bleached flour, soybean oil or canola oil.  These don't have any of those!  Here is the ingredient list for these Pita Bites:
Enriched flour (unbleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, vitamin B1, riboflavin, vitamin B2, folic acid)
Sunflower oil
Sea Salt

Whoo!  One of my husband's coworkers sent a portion of this box home for me.  They were slightly stale and they were still good!  So, you can guess what I'm getting the next time we go to the supermarket!
They come in two other flavors...Garlic 'n Chive and Black Olive Feta.  I haven't read the ingredients on those boxes so I don't know if they're as natural but I'll be checking it out! I wish I had some.  I just can't look at this empty box any longer!

Homemade Laundry Detergent

There aren’t many things that are more satisfying than making your own laundry detergent.  Who knew you could do that?!  The best part is….it will only cost you about $3 per batch.  Our first batch lasted one whole year.  A WHOLE YEAR! Three dollars for one year of laundry detergent!
I started making it because I’m cheap then I started thinking about how much better for us it must be.  There are no chemicals being put on our clothes and rubbing against our skin.  Cheap…healthy…sounds good to me!
Here is the recipe:
1 Fels Naptha soup bar, grated
1 cup washing soda (NOT baking soda)
½ cup Borax
Clean 5 gallon bucket with lid
Smaller laundry detergent dispenser or container
The ingredients can usually be found in the laundry products aisle.
Grate the soap into a small sauce pan.  (This is a little difficult in the winter because the soap bar is sooo hard.  Just keep a good thought!)  Cover with hot water.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continually, until the soap completely dissolves. 
Put washing soda and borax in a 5 gallon bucket.  Pour in the hot, melted soap mixture.  Stir well, until all the powder is dissolved.
Fill the bucket to the top with additional hot tap water.
Stir, cover securely, and let set overnight.
The next morning, stir the mixture.  Mix equal amounts of soap concentrate and water in a smaller laundry detergent dispenser or container.  Shake before using.
For top-loading, machines use 1 cup of the soap mixture per load.
For front-loading machines, use 1/3 cup per load.
Now you can smile each time you wash a load of clothes because you know it’s only costing you pennies!

-Keep in mind that this detergent is not scented.  If you want a scent, use a nice fabric softener or dryer sheets.

The three homemade laundry detergent ingredients

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pregnancy Cravings and Pickles

Right now, I am 11 weeks pregnant.  I’m over the nausea stage for the most part and now I’m just hungry.  I don’t put much stock into cravings because I feel like some women just make all that up.  Yes, there’s a baby growing inside of me but that doesn’t mean I have to eat everything in sight.
With that being said…I wish I had some pickles.  To be honest, I’ve wished that for a long time (even before I was pregnant).  It’s not just a pregnancy “want”, it’s an all the time want.  However, I have yet to find pickles that don’t contain Yellow 5 as a coloring or Sodium Benzoate as a preservative.  If you know of any, let me know because I’d like to buy LOTS of them. 
I’ve heard of women eating crazy things when they’re pregnant just because they’re “craving” it.  Let’s be honest though, should you eat something that is harmful to you and your baby just because you’re craving it?  No!  I’m not going to eat those pickles I badly want because it’s a poor choice.  We’re adults and we can choose to walk away.  So, the next time you crave a fast food burger remember it’s bad for you and that sweet little thing who is counting on you.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Camping Food

Hotdogs, Smores, Bacon & Eggs, Soft Drinks, Chips, Sweets…..
Is that what you think of when you think about camping food?  Well, not if you believe in natural food!  Besides the meat being bad (even if they’re beef), most hotdogs contain nitrates and/or nitrites.  Most graham crackers have soybean oil and marshmallows contain Blue 1 for coloring.  Bacon is in the same category as hotdogs, store bought eggs are produced from chickens who eat food with antibiotics, most soft drinks contain Sodium Benzoate and corn syrup, chips are very artificial…just look at them, and most sweets contain refined sugar, corn syrup, coloring, etc.
Never fear!  Camping can still be fun and you don’t have to eat tree bark!  We’re leaving for a camping trip tomorrow in this….

 To plan meals, I make a list of each day and what we’ll be eating for breakfast, lunch and supper.  That way, I can stay organized and know what ingredients to pack.  Cereal for breakfast is always easy.  We buy a bran and raisin cereal that contains no high fructose corn syrup.  If we had access to farm fresh milk I would buy it but we don’t so I’m packing almond milk for this trip.  The almond milk we bought is from non-GMO almonds.  We take our own eggs and I also make drop biscuits from scratch (no need to knead these) with whole grain wheat flour.
Six beautiful, homegrown eggs ready to make the trip
I like to keep all meals easy so for lunch and supper we’ll eat spaghetti (whole wheat pasta and sauce sans corn syrup), fried potatoes (fried in coconut oil), hamburgers from home grown beef, chicken and dumplins (I’ll make it before we leave with chicken that contains no antibiotics, hormones or steroids), etc.  For the record, federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones and steroids in poultry.  However, look for a brand that doesn’t use antibiotics either.
We try not to eat many sweets but if you want them on your trip, make peanut clusters with cocoa, an unrefined sugar, and peanuts.  They’re easy and you can just leave them in the ice chest if it’s hot outside.
Eating natural on a camping trip is no harder than eating junk.  Just think outside the box…or wrapper or whatever that prepackaged stuff comes in.  My husband is always impressed when I turn out homemade biscuits, gravy and scrambled eggs from one burner in our little camper. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"The Girls"- our laying hens

My husband’s grandpa has chickens for eggs on his farm and we always bring some home with us when we go to visit.  It was always a treat to get his eggs.  Then one day I happened to learn that a friend of mine had chickens in her backyard and she lives in a neighboring large city.  I had never heard of someone having chickens in town!  So, I researched the laws and sure enough, we could have chickens in our suburban back yard.  That’s all I needed to know!  I convinced my husband by telling him I would feed them, love them, clean up after them and everything.  So, we started building the coop.  It was winter time and snowing…not really a good time to build a coop but once I get my mind on something there is no stopping me!  We started off with three chickens and after two tragedies and a series of other events we now have six.  We have three Black Australorps (Helen, Thelma Lou and Aunt Bee), two Rhode Island Reds (Omelet and Elvis) and one Cinnamon Queen (Big Mama).  They sure make the backyard lively!  We used to let them roam the yard in the evenings but then we decided we didn’t like stepping in chicken stuff all over the yard.  So, now, their pen has sand in the bottom so it can easily be cleaned with a litter box scooper.  My sweet husband also fenced in a small area of the yard where we let them out to eat grass, bugs, etc. 
The first time we walked outside and found breakfast right there in the laying box was a miracle.  How fascinating!  Now, I enjoy gathering about four eggs a day.  What I also enjoy about the eggs is the added health benefits as opposed to store bought eggs.  Most of the eggs sold in stores are from chickens that spend their life in a small cage.  All they do is eat antibiotic feed and lay eggs.  They don’t get to move, be social or see the outdoors.  Do you really want to eat that?  Some “free range” varieties allow the chickens to be loose in the house but they don’t actually go outside.  Our chickens get exercise, eat bugs they dig up as well as non-antibiotic feed, have fresh water each day, etc.  If you ever crack a store bought egg into a skillet next to a farm fresh egg you will notice a difference.  A farm fresh egg has a deep, rich colored yolk.  That is because it’s packed with more nutrients! 
Keeping laying hens isn’t hard.  You should check your city laws to see if they allow you to have them.  If you can’t or don’t want to keep your own hens, support a local farmer and buy his eggs.  You can buy several dozen at a time.  They will keep for weeks since they are fresh.
Note:  We purchased our hens young but full grown and already laying.  We didn’t have to raise them from chicks.  You can if you want but this is always a great option.

Our first eggs

Soaking and Cooking Pinto Beans

Beans are a fun topic because they are so versatile and cheap!  I like cheap.  One thing you’ll learn is I like frugalness just as much as I like natural food.  Sure, canned beans are convenient but they cost considerably more than dry beans and they tend to have a lot of sodium.  Plus, you don’t get the satisfaction of soaking them yourself.

I like to cook a big pot of beans then use them for various things throughout the week.  We like beans and cornbread, of course, (we do live in the south) but I also like to use them in chili, Mexican dishes, etc.  So, what you do is, buy a bag of pinto beans (we’ll start with them because they can be used in a wide variety of ways).  The best value I have found at our supermarket is  a 4lb bag.  (I try to support brands other than the “big names” sometimes but that’s a topic for another post!) 
1.       To start, dump out the desired amount of beans onto your counter.  Four cups is a good amount to start with.  Now, you want to sort the beans.  My husbands grand-mother used to say you need to “look” the beans.  This simply means to make sure there aren’t any rocks mixed in with them.  Rocks aren’t easily digestible no matter how long you soak them.  Once you’ve “looked” your beans, gather them up and put them in a slow cooker (that’s my favorite mode of cooking beans).  Run some water over them, swish them around a couple times and drain the water.  This gets dust and dirt off them.
2.       For four cups of beans, you’ll cover them with 12-16 cups of water.  I usually just put a lot in there so each bean will have enough water.  I don’t care for measuring if I don’t have to!  You want to soak them overnight.  This is best because this method makes the beans more easily digestible.  So, pour in the water, put the lid on and leave them alone to soak overnight.  (Leave the slow cooker off, of course.)
3.       When you get up in the morning, drain the soaking water off and fill up with new water.  I put enough water to cover the beans by about 2 inches.  Since I’m home all day I turn my slow cooker on high around 8:00a.m. and I turn it off around 3p.m.  If you’re going to be gone for a longer period of time you might try putting them on low all day instead.
4.       Once the beans are cooked, I skim the foam off the top then they’re ready to eat!  Season them how you like (I just use salt).  Put them over cornbread, add them to chili, mix them with some salsa and sautéed onions and eat them with chips, add them to a casserole, etc.  I even like to divide them up and freeze them so I’ll have them for later use. 
More than just being versatile, pinto beans have many healthy benefits.  (Thanks to my C-U-T-E hubby for researching them).  Pinto beans in particular are packed with molybdenum (200% daily value in 1 cup of beans). They are also a good source of folate (great for pregnancy), dietary fiber, tryptophan, manganese, protein, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, and vitamin B1 (thiamin).  Fiber is good for lowering cholesterol and prevents sugar levels from rising after your meal and lowers your heart disease risk.  Fiber (as well as antioxidants) found in pinto beans can reduce your cancer risk.  Besides all that, pinto beans have lots of protein and are a good source of iron!
Note:  Don't add salt until AFTER the beans are cooked or they will be tough.
What are you waiting for?  Get those beans soaking!