Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Easy Protein Bars

We have been eating a mostly vegetarian diet for some time now.  Pookie has never really eaten meat without it being well hidden in foods.  One of the areas that I have to be watchful of is that we get enough proteins in our diet.  We eat a variety of foods that contain protein, one of our favorite being quinoa.  We use that as much (if not more) than we used to use rice.  Problem is, sometimes Pookie just gets in a mood where getting him to eat enough is a challenge. Sensory issues abound on those days.  Foods that he normally will eat well, just don't appeal to him.  I have found a great way to get proteins into him though.  I cannot remember where I found the recipe online, but it has been a blessing to have.  I keep the ingredients around and make it often.

Quick & Easy Protein Bars

1/2 cup of honey
2/3 cup of peanut butter (or any other nut butter that you enjoy)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup of whey protein powder (the chocolate flavor tastes great in these!)
2 1/2 cups of rice crispies cereal*

I warm up the honey and peanut butter just enough to make them more pourable.  Stir in the vanilla and protein powder.  Pour over the cereal in a bowl.  Mix together to coat the cereal well.

Spray a 9x9 inch pan with vegetable spray.  Spoon the cereal mixture into the pan and press evenly into the pan.  Let set until cooled completely.  Cut into bars about 1x3 inch in size.  The bar size may seem small, but these are very filling!

* I have used various cereals in place of the rice crispies type.  The kids love them made with Kix or Cheerios cereals.  You could try the recipe with granola (my favorite way to make them) or any cereal that is not overly sugared.

Even on days when Pookie is the most picky about what he wants to eat, these are always a hit with him.  I love that the kids think they are getting a snack, but it is a very healthy one.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Summer Routines & Staying Comfortable in the Heat

Oh, the lazy days of summer!  The days are warming up and with that, our warm weather routine has begun.  We don't use fans or air conditioning.  Our little solar panel system is just not large enough for that.  We have found that we manage well without them though.  It just takes planning.  Here is an overview for those who are curious as to how we deal with the summer heat without electricity.

I plan out the week's tasks thoroughly.  This allows me to get everything done, but in smaller increments.  My days begin early.  By 7am, I am awake and beginning my day.  The kids sleep in until closer to 8:30am.  By the time that they are awake, I have a batch of laundry on the clothesline.  I don't have a set "laundry day", but will do smaller loads almost daily.  This allows me to stay ahead on it while not having a large amount to do at one time.  The only exception is that I will plan a laundry day if there is large items, such as bedding, to be done at the laundromat. 

When the kids wake up, breakfast is often ready or staged to be a quick fix.  Some favorite summer breakfasts are muffins or some other pastries.  Pookie loves breakfast bars that have fruit in them.  I found a recipe for a very healthy breakfast bar that is much like an oatmeal cookie.  Instead of making it into the drop cookies the recipe directed, I make my own breakfast bars.  This is very easy!!!  As you place a generous spoonful of the cookie dough onto the baking sheet, pat it into a thin rectangle about 3"x 4" in size.  Thinly spread your favorite flavor of preserves along the cookie.  Fold over the cookie dough to make a 1.5"x 4" cookie.  Bake as recipe directs.  I recommend using fruit preserves in these instead of jam or jelly.  Preserves have more fruit to them and you can find low sugar varieties. 

After breakfast is squared away, we homeschool.  First up is the lessons that both kids are doing together.  I love the My Father's World curricula for the ease that it allows for me to adapt Little Miss' lessons into something that Pookie can participate in.  We do the Bible study portion together, along with our morning calendar.  When it is time for worksheets and other desk work, Little Miss goes to her workboxes and gets started.  As she is busy doing her independent work, I have one on one time to guide Pookie through his homeschooling.  I am adapting the worksheets that Little Miss is doing into a simplified version that Pookie is able to do, yet is challenged by.  After the independent work is done, we do artwork and I read books to both kids.  That rounds out their school day.

Afternoons are a lazy time for us all.  Being the hottest part of the day, we slow way down.  I have a cold lunch ready for when schooling is done.  Then the kids play in the water to get cooled off.  A hour long rest period comes next.  Naps are not required, but they are learning to take that rest time.  They listen to music, look at books, or watch videos quietly.  The important part is that they are learning to have that rest period during the warmest time of the day.  I have found that days in which the rest period is not utilized, the kids get more cranky.  Simply taking that break really makes a difference! 

Once their rest period is over, they have free time to play.  We have a shady yard and water toys for them to enjoy.  There is a lake about 13 miles from home that we can go to for swimming.  City parks, museums, and other locations are enjoyed in the afternoons.  I am planning those trips for the hottest days especially.  It is a perfect time for field trips! 

We are very careful with the heat.  At the store, we found the little scarves that you soak in cool water before wearing.  I have 2 for each person.  This allows us to be wearing one while the second is cooling in the water.  We have little battery operated fans.  The kids love the ones that include a spray bottle.  Pookie has a little fan that has a cover over it to prevent little fingers from touching the moving blades.  Little Miss and I both have the spray bottle types.  As soon as Pookie sees those in use, he is right there enjoying it also.  LOL

The key factor that is important is to be smart.  NEVER do heavier work in the afternoons, for example.  Save that work for early mornings.  Be alert to the heat index levels.  If there is an excessive heat warning, play it smart and have a back-up plan for staying comfortable and safe.  We never had air conditioning when I was a kid.  We learned to work in the mornings and take things easier in the afternoons.  Our family has been living off-grid 4 years now. Some summer days are pretty hot, but we manage it well. 

If your family were to have a power outage in the summer and unable to use electrical fans or air conditioning, how would you manage the heat?  Do you have a back-up plan in place?  What if the heat index was in the triple digits?  Do you and your family know how to safely manage?  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Old-Time Pantry Building

It seems that the topic of pantry building keeps coming up in one way or
another in both personal and online conversations. It would seem that
the rising costs are affecting many families. Sadly, many are so used
to the idea of buying packaged, convenience foods that they are lost at
the thought of having to cook from scratch. Unless you are willing to
learn to cook, this blog post will likely be of little value to you.

I think back to stories I heard from people who had clear memories of
the Depression years. For some reason, even as a child, I have always
had a passion for learning what I could about that time. How did the
families work through the hardships of that time? What did they do to
get the things that they needed when money was scarce? Back then, rural
families especially were large. How did they manage to feed a large
family with little to now finances to spend at the grocery stores? As
the title of this post implies, this post is about the pantry. It is
based on the stories told to me through the years by those who lived
through that time period known as the Depression Era. Due to our being
a rural family, I am writing from that perspective. There are many
aspects of what rural families did that you can easily implement even if
you live in the city.

Families did not eat fancy. Their meals were simple foods that were very
wholesome and nutritious. It was good ol' basic farm cookin'. Simple
meals prepared using the vegetables and fruits that were in season.
Much of the produce was home grown. Some families would barter with a
neighbor for produce that they needed. One example would be if a
neighbor had a large crop of sweet corn and you had a surplus of green
beans. These neighbors may get together and trade some of their surplus
for the vegetable that they lack. Typically, however, a rural family
would buy very little of their foods at a store. They learned to eat
according to what they grew.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, a frugal family garden had very
few varieties in it, but had larger amounts of what they did plant.
Consider the vegetables that you eat the most often. In our home, it
would be things like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, squash, green
beans, carrots, beets, onions, and corn. Added to that would be a
couple of summer vegetables that are not able to be canned. These are
summer squash (zucchini & yellow squash), leafy greens, radishes, and
eggplant. These round out the typical garden that we would have
growing. This list varies depending on your family's tastes. Now,
should I find that it is cheaper to buy a bushel of the green beans, in
example, at a Farmer's Market than it is to grown them, I will buy them
instead. I can then bring them home and put them up in the canning
jars. The same goes for any of the other vegetables. If you are a
member of a Sam's Club or similar warehouse store, you can buy in the
#10 cans things like ketchup, diced tomatoes, and various other foods
for far cheaper than to grow them. The garden list is only a reference
tool for what to stock. It is up to you to decide which are cheaper to
grow in your area.

In the earlier generations, the bulk of their food purchases were those
items that they did not have the ability to grow. Basic pantry staples
such as flour, sugar, honey, molasses, baking powder, baking soda, salt,
pepper, culinary herbs & spices, cornmeal, oatmeal, maple syrup, and
yeast are such items. Buying milk, eggs, cheese, and meat were the only
perishables that they might purchase. Can you imagine only buying those
items at a store? Likely, many people wouldn't be buying all of those.
In some households, they used molasses in place of maple syrup on
pancakes or waffles as well as using it to sweeten or add flavoring to
their cooking.

Have you noticed that in the lists of foods that would be in the pantry,
there is no mention of frozen dinners, boxed foods, or any of the
convenience foods so common today? They didn't use them! Some foods
that most would not consider a convenience item that are not mentioned
in the above lists are: noodles, breads, snacks, and desserts. They
made their own. Pasta is a very easy recipe to make. It is simply
eggs, flour, and a little bit of water to make the most simple recipes.
If you want to get fancy you add a bit of pureed beets, spinach, or
carrots to the recipe to make your red, green, and orange vegetable
pasta. The point is, these were simple foods that were made at home as
they were needed.

The pantry items listed are ones that require that you know how to cook
or be willing to learn. As with anything, the more work you are willing
to do, the lower your costs will be in the end. A large loaf of bread
costs about $1.29 for the cheapest brand at the local store. To make it
at home, I am able to make 2 loaves for just under that cost. Pasta
from the store is a rip-off. My dear husband was surprised when I made
homemade pasta for the first time. He got himself a large helping of
spaghetti. He served himself the same amount he would have done if the
pasta were the store bought variety. He was caught off guard by the
fact that he couldn't eat it all. The homemade was far more satisfying
than the boxed stuff from the store. He ate far less, but was full. It
stuck with him longer also. He wasn't feeling the need to snack later
in the evening. When using homemade pasta, I can cook half the quantity
and feed the family well. Using this method of pantry stocking, we are
able to feed a family of 4 for under $450 per month. The more we grow
ourselves, the lower that cost is. That cost is based on what it is if
we did not have a garden.

So, where do you begin? You start with a menu as I mentioned in the
previous post. Choose meals that your family enjoys, yet does not take
a lot of fancy ingredients. You can do an occasional fancy meal, but
most are farm cooking style. Plan well the meals and what is needed to
make them. Wherever you can, find recipes for the ingredients. Pasta
is a good example. Instead of buying it, make it yourself at home.
Each time you make the pasta, you are saving money. Breads are another
money saving option. I use one basic recipe for my breads. Shaped into
loaves, it is our basic bread. Rolled out 3/4 inch thick and cut out
with a 3" diameter cutter (a clean large tuna can with both top & bottom
removed works great) and you have burger buns. If you cut the rolled
out bread dough into 2"x 6" long strips, you have hot dog buns.

Like the toaster pastries? Try making a pie crust dough. Roll it out
and cut into an 8"x 6" rectangle. Spread a favorite flavor of jam
thinly on one half of the dough. Fold over to make a 4"x 6" rectangle
and press the edges closed. Bake in your oven at 350*F until lightly
golden. Voila'! You have homemade toaster pastries! Similarly, you
can cut the pie crust into 5" square pieces. Add a spoon of pie filling
and fold into a triangle to make a turnover or fruit pie. These little
pies were popular as they could be tucked into lunches easily.

If you are willing to do the work of cooking from scratch, you can feed
your family very well for far less than you pay now.


Monday, May 7, 2012

No Refrigeration....Now What?

It is surprising how often I hear people readily admit that they are a slave to technology.  Our family is still in the process of slowly learning to adapt to using only the technology that is truly a necessity.  Just when you believe that you have done all that you can, there is something else that you find yourself making adjustments with.  Refrigeration is one of these areas.

The thought that brought me to considering refrigeration is how dependent we are on it as a society.  Think about what would happen is the power went out due to a storm.  How much food would you lose?  Let's say that you go to your refrigerator right now and open it up only to find that the condensor went out and it was no longer keeping the food cold.  How would that affect your family?  I have seen many times a refrigerator that is stocked to the gills with containers of food.  So much food that much of it ends up being tossed out due to becoming spoiled before it was used.  Such a waste!

Now, think about exactly what you keep in the refrigerator.  Are there items that you don't use often, such as condiments, that you could utilize in a better way?  The goal for me it to limit the refrigerator use to only the extreme essentials. 

Condiments, like ketchup, I am able to repackage into much smaller amounts.  If you buy the #10 size cans of ketchup, you are able to home can it into the smaller 1/2 pint size canning jars.  The smaller size is plenty to use, but not so much that I contantly have a bottle of it in the refrigerator.  I try to purchase condiments that need refrigeration only when needed for a specific recipe or meal.  Buying the actual size needed will save refrigeration usages also.  Try making some things fresh, like mayonnaise. 

When cooking, try to eliminate leftovers by keeping portions at the right level when preparing the food.  Not only will you save money in the ingredients, but you won't be tossing out leftovers later on.   If making foods that can be home canned for the pantry, take it into consideration during the meal preparation.  One example is when I make a pot roast with vegetables.  I make a large roast but only enough vegetables are added for that one meal.  Once the meal is done, I divide the leftover roast into jars.  I then add the raw veggies to the jars.  Add the liquid from the roast with just enough water to fill the jars properly.  Processing the roast this way will allow you to have all the wonderful flavors of the roast, yet the veggies will not be over-cooked.

In summer, my refrigerator contents drops down to minimal.  I have a lot of bottled water filling the bottom shelf.  Another shelf contains cold salads, such as macaroni salad or a onion & cucumber salad.  Sweet tea is always present, along with fruit flavored drinks for the kids.  The only milk is a quart container (a day's supply) of almond milk.  Eggs and cheese round out the contents.  With the exception of eggs & cheese, I only store enough perisables in the refrigertor for that day's use.  This is the biggest savings fo us.  Should the refrigerator stop working, we only lose a day's supply of food.  It is nothing that we cannot easily replace.

I took a serious look at what I truly needed a refrigerator for and found that our family could easily use only a small office sized refrigerator for our needs.  That was a huge discovey!  I am so glad that I learned to home can.  That alone has done much to reduce the need for refrigeration.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Little Miss Meets an Author

The past week, my dear husband has been home. He was out on the truck
for 5 weeks, so was able to have 5 days off at home. It has been such a
blessing. Sure beats the 36 hours he got to have at home in the past
few months. We were able to attend church services together as a
family. That is something that we haven't been able to do in a long time.

On the homestead, I planted very little thus far. We have been trying
to get the new raised bed garden going, but keep running into snags
along the way. Our biggest obstacle being not having a pickup truck
running. Can't haul in the recycled pallets with my new jeep. There is
no trailer hitch on it yet. So, I am going to make slight alterations
in my plans so that I can grow at least a few things.

I decided against participating in the craft show this year. I am
simply not finding enough time to get crafts made for it. Instead, I am
planning to just start working on holiday gifts and be content with
that. If I happen to sell a few things along the way, then that would
be wonderful. My first priority is in the tending to our young children
and homeschooling them.

I am going to be getting Pookie set up with a new therapist for his
speech and occupational therapies. The office he previously went to
wasn't a good fit in the end. We are excited to get him to the new
therapists though. They are coming highly recommended. I will continue
working with him at home. I am looking forward to having a therapist to
work along side of in Pookie's therapy. It will give me more options to
consider in how to work with him effectively.

Little Miss is getting to be such a big girl. We are loving the
thematic study approach of the My Father's World curriculum. We took
her to the library to get her own library card. She was excited to
receive that! I took her and Pookie to the homeschool convention in
Tulsa. While there, she met Susan K. Marlow, who write the "Circle C
Adventures" books. These books are like a cowgirl version of the Little
House stories. The main character in the series in a little girl who
lives on a ranch. She doesn't mean to get into mischief, but it always
seems to find her. The first set of 6 books are for young girls, age
6-8 yrs old. The next set are for girls 9-12 yrs old. Mrs, Marlow is a
veteran homeschooling mother. She has on her website free printables to
use along with each of her books. She sells lapbooks that also
correspond to each of the books. Little Miss was very excited when Mrs.
Marlow autographed the book that we bought. I also was able to take a
picture of Little Miss with Mrs. Marlow. In reading the book, I am
seeing that Little Miss is going to love this series. Her favorite
movie is "Flicka" and she enjoys anything to do with horses. The best
part is that these books are ones that, like the Little House series,
you can trust your child to read without being exposed to a lot of
worldly nonsense & ideas. They are a truly wholesome book.