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Monday, March 29, 2010

A Sweet Problem

A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain

What an interesting study....not that it should come as any surprise.   I think people have been getting stirrings of the fact that HFCS is bad, for some time now, however of course the corn industry disagrees.  

However, this leads us to the question, which sweeteners are good...or at least not as bad?    I think most everyone can agree that refined sugar isn't that great for you.

It can be very confusing, sorting out all the differnt types of sweetners on the market.....granulated sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, stevia, splenda, aspartame, turbinado, rapadura,  sucanatagave nectar.. It's enough to give anyone a headache. 

Personally, I am a fan (to use facebook terminology) of keeping things as natural as possible....this means sweetners which are mainly unprocessed and whole.

Of course, the most "whole" sweetner out there is honey...if you can get raw honey, it's basically going straight from the beehive to your mouth.    Honey is said to have a whole host of health benefits.....everything from treating burns to anti-bacterial properties.  Raw honey is "best" but of course also more expensive, so in our current situation, we need to make-do with just regular honey.  Many of my baking recipies for the good goodies use honey.

Rapadura is also a very "whole" sweetenr.  Historically sugar was made by pressing the juice from the cane and boiling away the water. The product retained its critical vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients.  Yes, you read that right, sugar actually has some vitamins, minerals and nutrients in it.

Turbinado sugar is slightly more processed than rapadura, but it still retains some nutrients, the difference being that turbinado has been centrifuged slightly to remove the molasses.

Speaking of molasses, it is one of the most healthy, nutrient-dense sweetners, especially blackstrap molasses which is high in iron. Blackstrap molasses is actually good for you.

Brown sugar contains molasses, which therefore makes it a bit healthier than white sugar, depending on how refined the sugar actually was. Needless to say, most commonly available brown sugar is pretty highly-refined. Nonetheless, brown sugar is still a slightly better than option than white sugar, since it is *less refined*.

Maple syrup is also a "whole food", going basically from the tree to your mouth with only the minimal processing of boiling off the water.  Real maple syrup also has important health benefits.

I also wanted to touch on agave nectar.  While many people market agave nectar as a "healthy sweetner" similar to honey, it is actually very highly processed and  some claim it is worse than HFCS.

The last category of sweetners to discuss is "non-nutritive" sweetners (aspartame, sucralose, sugar alcohols, etc).  I think the title pretty much sums it up, anything which is non-nutritive must be pretty bad.   Here is an excellant article from the Weston-Price foundation detailing some of the dangers of artifical sweetners.   The one exception being stevia, which from all the research I have read, isn't so bad after all.  Unfortunately it is generally more expensive than other artifical sweetners, but a much better option, for people (like diabetics) who might need that option. Stay tuned for a future issue where I share my recipe for home-made soda using stevia!

Easter is almost upon us....that wonderful season where we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the ending of the Lenten Fast. Unfortunately in our current society, the holiday seems to be synonomous with chocolcate bunnies and eating candy ,instead of the focus being on the miracle of Resurrection. Nonethelesss our soceity being what it is, this Easter, our goal is make our Easter goodies using more healthsome, whole sweetners.   Stay tuned for homemade candy ideas!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday Salvage

I have been reading Amy Dacyczn's The Complete Tightwad Gazette,  (checked out from the library of course), so every free moment has been spent trying to glean as much wisdom as possible before returning.   Now, for those who aren't familiar with this book, it actually isn't a typical book...with chapters 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. whereby each chapter talks about a different topic.  It is a collection of newsletters called The Tightwad Gazette that Amy Dacyczn wrote from 1990-1996.  Therefore, it jumps around a lot, with one page talkng about Budget Weddings  and the prior page discussing Those Pesky Juice Lids.   However, there is still a lot of wisdom to be learned from it, once I got past the fact that some advice is outdated, I learned that much of her wisdom is timeless.

Anyway, as I was reading it, the Social-Butterfly was partaking in that annoying pastime of children...reading over my shoulder.   She happened to notice a page entitled "Toys from Trash" of course the word toys caught her attention.  Despite the fact that they have an entire toyroom filled with toys, they are always looking for new ones, combine new toys with a "crafty activity" and you have a thrilling Saturday for an 8-year old.   So, Social-Butterfly decided that she wanted to make a "hockey rink" which uses nothing more than a cardboard box and a magic marker.

The book suggested using little 6-inch rulers and checkers for the hockey sticks and the puck.  Instead we used wooden pieces from  Handwriting Without Tears Wooden Letter Sets for hockey sticks and a checker we managed to scrouge up from the bottom of the toy chest.  It provided a few moments of entertainment at least, but most of the fun was in making it.  More importantly, I think it taught a valuable lesson in creativity and "making do"

The Frugal Zealot  also is very adamant about NEVER wasting food.  That is one area we really need to work on, however at least today I was able to make one food salvage.

I decided to try a new bread recipe, one which promised to be faster and easier.

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

3 cups  white-whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)


1.Place ingredients in the bread machine pan in the order suggested by the manufacturer.

2.Select Whole Wheat or Basic Bread setting. Press Start
Notice how this recipe states to use a bread machine.  I don't own one, nor did I ever really care for the odd-shaped loaves that came out of it, when I did own one.  However, I decided to try making this recipe by hand using the mixing paddle on my Cuisinart Food Processor.   I figured I would just put the ingredients in the same order as I would in a bread machine (wet first, with dry on top, putting the yeast in a little well in the dry ingredients).  Well, it mixed up just fine, but did.not.rise!  Not at all, so we decided instead to use the dough to make pretzals...rolling it into shapes, then brushing the tops with melted butter, sprinkling with sea salt and baking at 350 degrees for around 15 minutes.
The results were quite delicious!! 
  The kids also had tons of fun rolling the dough into their favorite shapes (mostly hearts and letters).  I baked them on an aluminium pizza baking sheet (the kind with holes in the bottom) and it came out rather good.
As, a bonus, I was also able to perfect my bread recipe.
100% Whole Wheat Bread

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

3 1/4 cups white-whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)


1.Place water, honey and yeast in the mixing bowl of the food processor.

2. Mix gently with a spoon and allow to sit for around 10 minutes or until the yeast is frothy.
3. Add rest of ingredients and mix using the mixing blade of the food processor.
4. Remove dough and place in a greased bowl and allow to rise in a warm place for around 1 to 1.5 hours. 
5.  Punch dough down, shape into loaf and place into a greased 9" loaf pan.
6. Allow to rise again for 1 to 1.5 hours.
7.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until done.

Since I mix and knead this using the food processor, it is even simpler than my other bread recipe and truly is something I can just "whip right up"....or course there is rising time involved...but not much actual work.  Please note, however that if using regular whole-wheat flour instead of white-whole wheat, it is recommended to add a small amount of vital wheat gluten to aid in rising.  

Altogether I think it was a pretty good Saturday Salvage day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Good Goodies

Back in the 70's when I was born, my parents were what I like to call "Catholic Hippies"...that is they were into the "good" stuff that hippies did (breastfeeding, natural child-birth, organic gardening, whole foods, recycling) and of course none of the bad stuff (like drugs and "free love").  Anyway, when I got married, my mom passed onto me a book entitled "The Good Goodies" written by Stan and Floss Dworkin and published in 1974.  The book is a cookbook of sorts, and the premise is making "goodies"  that are good for you, the idea being that the goodies themselves are nutritious and part of a balanced diet....not just an empty-calorie add-on. 


But, the way we see it, if a candy can be made as healthy as any other wholesome food, then the candy IS food, not just something extra you tack on with a feeling of guilt, but a wholesome, natural, satisfying food. (pg. 37).

That's the way I see it too!

Of course, some nutritional ideas have changed since 1974 when this book was published., now we know that saturated fat isn't the devil  however the book still has some excellent recipes.

Therefore, part of real food eating quest is to making everything as nutritious as possible, even the "goodies". 

In my house, we LOVE cookies. absolutely love cookies, adore cookies.  My very picky fairy-princess will  eat anything if I call it a cookie and throw chocolate chips in it...and destructo-boy loves them too!  Of course, the real cookie fan is the Pater Familas, so we usually have some sort of "good, goody" in our house.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes: However, before we start just a few notes on baking cookies.  

1) Cookies continue to bake after being taken out of the oven, therefore to get perfect cookies you really need to take them out a minute or two before they are done, check them frequently, and always set the timer for the shortest time given in a recipie (or even a minute or two before)
2) There is nothing worse than cookies that get too brown on the bottom. To avoid this, you really need to use a LIGHT-colored cookie sheet.   I oftentimes line my cookie sheets with alumninum foil before baking. It may not be the thriftiest solution, but it does prevent the bottoms from getting too dark.  Since we bake cookies so much, I'm considering investing in a new cookie sheets, but haven't made the plunge yet.

Peanut-Butter Oatmeal Cookies (yield: 30 cookies)
3 eggs

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup natural (no sugar added) peanut butter

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups  oats

1 cup white-whole wheat  flour

1 cup nonfat dry milk powder

2 teaspoons baking soda


1.In a mixing bowl, beat egg whites and brown sugar. Beat in peanut butter, applesauce, honey and vanilla. Combine the oats, flour, milk powder and baking soda; gradually add to peanut butter mixture, beating until combined.

2.Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 in. apart onto baking sheets coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.
Gluten-Free Banana Brownies (yield: 16 brownies)

1/4 cup butter

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

2 large eggs

2/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 small ripe banana, mashed

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup coconut flour


1.Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease an 8 inch square pan.

2.Melt butter in sauce pan over medium-low heat. Remove from heat, add chips, and stir until melted. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

3.Lightly beat the egg in a medium bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, banana, vanilla, and salt. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the banana mixture, and stir until well combined. Add the flour, stirring just until incorporated. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

4.Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs, about 30 minutes. Don't over bake. Remove, and cool pan on wire rack before cutting.
Pumpkin-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies (yield: 30 cookies)

2 cups white-whole wheat flour

1 1/3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter or margarine, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup  pumpkin or squach or mashed sweet potato

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 cup chocolate chips


1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets.

2.Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla extract; mix well. Add flour mixture; mix well. Stir in nuts and raisins. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets.

3.Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned and set in centers. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely
Coconut Cookies  (yield: 60 cookies)

1 cup coconut oil

1 cup  sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups white-whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup chocolate chips


1.Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.

2.In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; gradually stir into the creamed mixture. Stir in the coconut, rolled oats, pecans and gumdrops. Roll the dough into walnut sized balls. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto the cookie sheets. Gently flatten cookies using a fork dipped in flour.

3.Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chewy Granola Bars

4 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 cup  flour (can use whole-wheat, coconut flour, brown rice flour, etc.)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup butter, softened

1 cup honey

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 cups add-ins (nuts, dried fruits, chocolate chips, shredded coconut, etc)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Lightly grease one 9x13 inch pan.

In a large mixing bowl combine the oats, flour, baking soda, vanilla, butter or margarine, honey and brown sugar. Stir in the 2 cups assorted chocolate chips, raisins, nuts etc.

Press down HARD into prepared pan!! Really press these down!!! Press hard....that keeps them from falling apart and crumbling and helps them stay together better. Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes then cut into bars. Let bars cool completely in pan before removing or serving.

Hope you enjoy some of these Good Goodies!!!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Strategic Sunday

Sunday, being the day of rest it is and all, also happens to be the day I end up with a largish block of free time to plan our strategy for the upcoming week.  Just like an expert chess player needs to think at least five moves ahead (or so the expert chess players tell me), a real food, thrifty mama needs to think at least five dinners ahead, so as not to be left at 5:00 PM staring blankly at the refrigerator.  I am unfortunately all too familiar with that blank refrigerator stare.   Those are the nights we either end up with a convenience food (but I gave those up..remember) or I end up rushing and cooking something that nobody (not even me) likes.

In the past, I have always resisted meal planning.  After all....how should I know on Sunday, what I'm going to *feel* like eating on Thursday?.Since I am the cook, I should get to choose to cook whatever I feel like eating on any given night, right? Some days I feel all healthy, crunchy, granola and am happy with curried lentils, or tofu stir-fry or quinoa and tabouli salad, other days I feel primal and want meat, and then of course there are the days I want nothing other than childhood comfort foods, pizza, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs.  However, not planning ahead leads to that blank 5:00 PM stare and grumpy, over-hungry children who are simply staaaaarrrrrrviiiing.

Anyway, to solve that problem I have started planning dinners in blocks of seven, so I have a week's worth of meals planned, but don't necessarily assign any dinner to any particular day.   I am finding that meal planning is essential to real-food eating, especially since it involves doing things like making my own tortillas or cooking dried beans as opposed to buying canned.   I also find that meal planning really helps us balance our meals and nutrients better....so we're not eating macaoni and cheese and then pizza and then lasanga all  in the same week....but balancing the pizza out with the curried lentils or sausage/potato/kale soup. It is also imporant, in preventing food spoilage...knowing that the tomatoes should be eaten by Wed. or the lettuce/spinach by Thurs.

So...without further ado...here is my schedule of the following seven night's dinners.

- roast chicken, baked sweet potatoes and green beans(to do today...take chicken out of freezer).
- bean, potato and sausage soup (to do ahead of time...soak and cook beans, make broth out of chicken bones, take sausage out of freezer), homemade drop biscuits, cooked carrots
- beans and rice, take chicken broth out of freezer (I cook rice in chicken broth),  swiss chard
-meatloaf, baked potatoes and swiss chard  (to do ahead of time, take beef out of freezer)
-bean quesadillas (to do ahead of time, soak and cook beans, make tortillas), swiss chard
-crustless spinach quiche, brocolli
-pizza (with home-made whole-wheat crust), yellow squash

Also, on my do-ahead tasks.....soak and cook dried chickpeas.  I love having chickpeas around to make hummus  or roasted chickpeas...both foods we commonly eat for lunch or snacks.

Of course, when planning this, I have to keep in mind that only the pizza, quiche and quiesadillas are suitable for Lenten Fridays, so I do have to work around that restriction.

I don't generally plan other meals, since breakfast is basically a choice of eggs, oatmeal, nut-butter sandwich, fruit, homemade muffins/bread or plain yogurt.  Lunches are either dinner leftovers,  nut-butter sandwiches, home-made muffins, salads, hummus/carrots, yogurt, nuts, seeds or dried or fresh fruits.

In later posts I will share more recipies with cost-analysis'...not to mention I will soon be delving into the hazards of cooking meals for picky eaters (both husbands and children)...so stay tuned!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cheese and Breastmilk

I was talking with a friend today about making cheese at home, she asked me if I had ever done it (I hadn't) and mentioned a book with great recipies for easy-to-make homemade cheeses.  I adore cheese, especially raw milk cheese and artisan cheeses.  I've often thought I could quite happily be a goat-herder in Switzerland, living in the moutains and  eating cheese and bread each day for lunch.   In case you haven't guessed, I've always had a rather romantic image of Switzerland from reading Heidi.

Anyway, this conversation reminded me of a very recent uproar over a New York City chef who sold cheese made with his wife's breastmilk.  Apparently a lot of people's first response to such such cuisine is a resounding "ewww".  Personally, I will never understand how people can be so squeamish about breastmilk.  In my former life, I extensively studied the reproductive physiology of dairy cows and have worked on farms and milked many a cow and goat in my time.  Trust me, cows are way more dirty and disgusting than any human mother ever could be....especially a mother who takes the time and energy to pump her milk (it's not easy).   Cows, especially those raised on factory farms need to have their own waste cleaned and disinfected off their udders before each milking.  That's ewwwwwww!!!  

 However, despite witnessing this first-hand...I still love cheese.   In the future, I hope to experiment with making my own (and no, it won't be from my breastmik...I've never gotten into the whole pumping and storing milk thing). Stayed tuned for a future edition chronicling that experiment.

Also, please don't think I'm actually advocating that mamas turn their extra milk into cheese.  Absolutely not....a much better use of that milk would be donating it to babies in need.  Unfortunately there is no shortage of infants who are unable to receive their own mother's milk, and would greatly benefit from donated milk (check out the Human Milk Banking Association for more information on donating milk).

Anyway, since breastfeeding is one of my favorite topics, the article obviously caught my eye. Breastmilk is the ultimate REAL FOOD. (Formula on the other hand is one of the most highly processed foods around).  It's amazing to think that a single food could provide ALL the nutrition a baby needs for at least the first half-year of life.  It's even more amazing to me that the human body is capable of producing such a superfood!   I've always loved breastfeeding my own children  (as evidenced by the fact that destructo-boy is still nursing at age 2..and the girls both weaned shortly after their third birthdays).  Surprisingly enough, it is only with the 3rd child...little Destructo-Boy,  that I've had people question why I am still nursing a child over the age of 2.  My general thinking is that since by all accounts he appears to be  human (two legs, opposable thumbs, upright posture and the ability to make sounds which at least resemble speech) that human milk is probably a pretty darn good choice of food for him.  If at any time he sprouts a tail,  starts walking around on all fours, eating grass and saying "moo" then I will concede that perhaps it is best to put him on cow's milk.

Breastmilk is also the ultimate in frugal feeding of infants, .and it always comes attractively packaged at just the right temperature.....so while it may not be a top choice for making cheese with (mostly because babies need it more) it's a pretty darn awesome substance and the one food I am most proud of making myself!  It is my heartfelt desire that every mother have the support and help she needs to provide this remarkable real food to her baby!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Free Reading

The Fairy-Princess turned 5 on October 19th of this past year. I hemmed and hawed over starting real "kindergarten school-work" with her last fall, but since she wouldn't have been able to go to public school yet (you have to be 5 as of Sept 1st) and she wasn't really interested in doing any kind of of structured activities....well that took care of that.  I'm all for the easier route and keeping things relaxed.

However, recently Fairy-Princess has been expressing a lot of interest in learning how to read, she loves hearing stories and absolutely loves making up VERY detailed and imaginative stories of her own.  No doubt she will be the next Louisa May Alcott, so we figured it was time to get her started.

Anyway, since April 19th will be her 5 1/2 birthday, I set that date as my "goal" as getting her started on something *a little* more structured.  We "school" year-round, (although I hate to use that word "school" since it seems like some of our best learning isn't "schooly" at all), however we do the "structured-stuff" year-round, choosing to keep things more relaxed all the time.

We had used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons  with the Social-Butterfly, but the Fairy-Princess scorns that book.

So, I started my quest for something "new".  She taught herself how to write upper-case letters all on her own, she'd been playing around on Starfall and we did the first three, free lessons on HeadSprout, however I felt we needed something more.

Recently, on a homeschool list I am on, I came across the website Lesson Pathways which lead me to Free Reading.  Now, I'm ALL about anything with the word "free" in the title.   Free Reading seems like a great resource, the lessons are all very clearly spelled out, they involve lots of "games",  printables for free picture cards and video's demonstrating each lesson.  I'm still not 100% convinced it is exactly what we need, but it seems like a great start.  

Yay...another great, frugal, homeschool find!  Once we actually get started, I'll report back with how we make out using it!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Real Recipes with Real Food

In my last blog post I talked about miserly mom tip #2....never buy anything you can make yourself.  

I have recently been practicing that tip and discovered that home-made food, while being cheaper and healthier is far, far tastier than store-bought food.  

To begin with, I've started making all my own bread.  This is regular whole-wheat bread.  The Social-Butterfly is gluten-free so in the future I post about gluten-free breads!


3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)

2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast

1/3 cup honey

5 cups whole wheat flour  (I find that using white-whole wheat provides a lighter, airier loaf that rises better.  Using all whole-wheat makes a denser loaf. The picture above was baked using typical whole-wheat flour.  I generally prefer to use white-whole wheat when I can find it on sale).

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon salt

3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons butter, melted


1.In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups white bread flour, and stir to combine. Let set for 30 minutes, or until big and bubbly.

2.Mix in 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, and salt. Stir in 2 cups whole wheat flour. Flour a flat surface and knead with whole wheat flour until not real sticky - just pulling away from the counter, but still sticky to touch. This may take an additional 2 to 4 cups of whole wheat flour. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled.

3.Punch down, and divide into 2 loaves. Place in greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans, and allow to rise until dough has topped the pans by one inch.

4.Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes; do not overbake. Lightly brush the tops of loaves with 1 tablespoon melted butter or margarine when done to prevent crust from getting hard. Cool completely
** Estimated Cost Comparision:
In my area, a loaf of "good, quality" whole-wheat bread...the "natural" kind without ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup runs between 3.79-4.19/loaf.
Home-made bread:
flour:  10 cups is approximately 2 1/2 lbs.  I can get 5 lbs for 3.55 for 5 lbs...so approximately: $1.76
honey:  2/3 cup honey is approximately. $1.68
butter:  6 tablepsoons is approximately 0.62
salt:  negligible cost
yeast:  approximately 0.23
Total:  4.29 for TWO loaves.   These loaves can be cut into around 16 slices...so a bit smaller than store-bought loaf....but still cheaper and healthier and definitely tastier! 
It seems like a lot of work, but it really isn't.  Most of the time is rising time, and once you get the hang of making your own bread, it's pretty easy to mix it up in the morning and then just let it rise.
My next foray into making my own food was homemade tortillas.  They are SO much yummier than the store ones. They aren't as pretty (well as least mine aren't...they are never perfect circles...always kinda odd-shaped)..but making them is actually pretty fun and relaxing.   The torillas cook really fast, so once you get the hang of it, it moves along quite nicely.  Here they are pictured in a chicken enchillada recipe.

Home-made Flour Tortillas

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons shortening (still looking for a healthier substitute....if anyone has any)

1 1/2 cups water


1.Whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Mix in the shortening with your fingers until the flour resembles cornmeal. Add the water and mix until the dough comes together; place on a lightly floured surface and knead a few minutes until smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball.

2.Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Use a well-floured rolling pin to roll a dough ball into a thin, round tortilla. Place into the hot skillet, and cook until bubbly and golden; flip and continue cooking until golden on the other side. Place the cooked tortilla in a tortilla warmer; continue rolling and cooking the remaining dough.
**Approximate Price Compasion: 
Store-bought tortillas:  approximately $7.95/24
Home-made version:
Flour:  approximately  $0.71
Shortening: complete guess here...maybe $.10
Baking powder:  again..compete guess..perhaps $.10
Total:  $0.91 for 16 tortillas.  Wow...what a great saving!!
These are absolutely delicious!!!!  Absolutely!!!  We had a few left-over so I ate them with just lettuce and spinach rolled-up inside.  Just plain lettuce and spinach....no cheese, no mayo, no mustard.  It was surprisingly good!!    I've also made them with white-whole wheat flour before and they are still super good.
Both the bread and the tortillas can be made in larger batches and frozen....making the work involved really not much at all. I generally make two batches of bread at a time (so 4 loaves) and freeze them.....just pulling a loaf out when we need one.
It does take a little bit of organizing and advance planning, but the great thing is, the more you do it, the easier it becomes!
Stay tuned for more real-food recipe's in the future!
***When possible, in my price comparisons I use prices from items I find on http://www.amazon.com/.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Monday Marketing and Wednesday Weirdness

Eight years ago, when my Social-Butterfly was born, my mom gave me a copy of  Jonni McCoy's Miserly Moms.  During my early days of motherhood, with numerous hours to spend holding and nursing a newborn, I devoured that book.  Unfortunately, I really didn't practice much of what she wrote....but I read it with a great deal of intensity, always thinking that "some day" I would put what she wrote into practice.

Now, eight years later, that day has come.  I know, I'm a bit slow at times, but it's hard to make the effort to be miserly when you don't *need* to be...at least it is for me.  I'm not naturally a miserly person.

Anyway, there are two major tips she wrote, that have stuck out in  my mind and that I now am making a great deal of effort to put into practice.  (these are paraphrased)

1) Never do all your grocery shopping at one store, shop around and compare prices.
2)  Never buy already made items that you can make yourself.

Number one is a bit difficult for me, as I really don't like shopping.  Let me rephrase that,  when I have all my darling offspring with me, I'd rather stick my eyes out with a fork then take them all into a store.  Even without children with me, shopping is still not my number one choice of activity, far, far from it.   Yet, it needs to be done, and although I hate the actual shopping for food, I LOVE food and generally don't trust anyone else to get the "right stuff"  So, hi ho, hi ho...it's off to the market I go.

So, this past Monday was my big grocery shopping day.  For the first time  ever I attempted going to three different stores, to get different items.   Now, let me clarify that where I live, shopping choices are rather limited....we have the regular mainstream grocery stores (Shaw's and Stop&Shop), the wholesale buyer's club (BJ's) of which we are a member and a couple of small, locally run, wonderful but naturally very pricey health food stores.   There are no big  health food stores like Trader Jo's or Whole Foods, nor are there any really inexpensive options like PriceRite, Aldi's or SuperWalmart.

Anyway, first stop was the local Shaw's.   I did pretty good there, didn't spend too much (around $119.00...which considering I hadn't been grocery shopping in around 2 weeks is pretty good).  I bought things like oranges, dried chickpeas, Breyer's Ice Cream (on sale, and we need our Sunday "treat" of course), whole-milk yogurt, organic tomato sauce (with coupon and sale), a small bag of sucanat (with coupon), ground beef (hormone/antibiotic free type with store-coupons...but unfortunately grain-fed I'm sure), organic chicken sausage (again with the store-coupons stuck on it), avocados (on sale)  and probably a few other items I'm forgetting.

However, here is where the weirdness comes in:  The Pater Familas took an orange in his lunch today.  A totally regular, orange-colored orange.  Except the inside looked like this:

I've heard of blood oranges before, but never actually seen one. Thankfully, co-workers of the Pater Familias were able to reassure him that this orange is the result of accidental cross-pollination with a different variety and not a deadly-poisoned piece of fruit.   I actually worked up the nerve to eat a bite of  it and it was pretty good, a bit sweeter than a regular orange actually. 

Anyway, moral of the story, ALWAYS save your grocery store receipts.  You never know when something "weird" might happen.  After all, opening up an orange you expect to be well...orange.. and seeing red is quite disconcerting.

Well, back to the shopping-trip. Next stop was a quick run into BJ's...the local whole-sale club.  There I picked up eggs, honey,  butter, two large tubs of organic lettuce and one of organic spinach, and organic carrots.  I've dicovered that those items generally are cheaper when you buy in bulk, so that is where I go.  The total came to around $42.00....which is the least amount I've EVER spent there.

Last stop, was the local health food store to get whole milk which is low-pasturized and from the local dairy. Maybe it's not as good as raw milk, but it's the best I can do without driving all over creation.  I also picked up some gluten-free wraps, organic ketchup,  dried lentils from the bulk bin and unsweetened carob chips from the bulk bin (I actually like carob...it's not quite chocolate, but it's pretty good in it's own way).  Total spent...around $34.00.

Total shopping for Monday....approximatly $195.00. I was pretty pleased with that, considering I hadn't been to the store in about 2 weeks.  A year ago at this time, I easily spent over $200/week....quite easily, so this is a good improvement.  I still have a ways to go yet,,,but I'm working on it.

I believe that most of that improvement comes from following Miserly Mom rule #2...but that's a post for another day.

So, I think I did pretty good with Miserly Mom rule #1.   I don't enjoy stopping at different stores...but I survived.  I think I could even make a habit of this "shopping around" thing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

With Less

I have recently been reading Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin.  The book is rather fascinating in itself (and controversial), however one phrase she used jumped out at me....the womanly art of thrift. Now, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding   is very near and dear to my heart...so the phrase the womanly art is bound to catch my attention.

I have been thinking about what that means...what is the womanly art of thrift?   This past year, we have learned to be thrifty and have discovered that frugality, rather than being boring or constraining is actually quite intriguing and exciting.   It never ceases to amaze me that although our income was slashed by more than half, our savings account has grown at a faster rate than ever before. This is mostly due to drastically cutting expenses, and we have learned that expenses can be cut quite easily and without too much pain,

When my husband was deciding on a career change, one question we pondered quite a bit was the best way to go about living while he was in school.  Did *I* want to try to increase our income?   Or, would it be easier to slash our expenses and live in a most frugal manner, getting by on savings and student loans?  We're still considering possiblities and will likely do a combination of both, however we are both very comitted to homeschooling and not putting destructo-boy into daycare.  More importantly, we realize that the art of frugality takes time to practice and learn.

However, whatever we do in the future, I am now on a mission to do whatever I can to learn the womanly art of thrift.   I feel that learning frugality is the only way to be financially secure.....(despite what all the network marketing companies will tell you), financial security comes not from having a large income, but from from knowing how to save, invest, and manage whatever amount of money one has.  It comes from building up savings and knowing how to cut back and still be happy, for frugality should never be depressing.  Knowing how the get the most "bang for your buck" or find the best deals at the grocery store, or "make do without" is a art, that I feel our society has lost.  With so many people having high loads of consumer debt, and the "need" for two-income families, frugality seems to have gone the way of the 50's cookie-baking mom.

When I first started looking into "real foods" I'm afraid I spent way too much money on "the good stuff".  When we first started homeschooling, I spent way too much money on books and curriculum.  Learning how to find quality for less is a challenge, to say the least, but a challenge I have been whole-heartedly enjoying.

I'm looking foreword  to sharing this journey with you....and would love to hear tips from my money-smart readers.

Stay tuned for the next edition where I discuss grocery-shopping........the thrifty, whole-foods, way.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Real Learning

Since my oldest daughter was just a tiny baby, I've always been attracted to the idea of homeschooling. As a college student, I spent a summer living with a Catholic, homeschooling family while I interned at a nearby museum.  That was really my first "up close" look at homeschooling with regular, every-day, normal people....they listened to country music (which at the time, I loved.), they wore regular clothes (no denim jumpers ;)), and their children were just normal kids (not super genius' nor special needs).  The lifestyle greatly attracted me.

Therefore, when my oldest hit three or so, and all the other playgroup mommies were looking at preschools, we opted to stay home.  The idea of dropping a little 3-yo (who was barely out of diapers and still not even weaned) off to hang out with a teacher and bunch of other 3-yo's just didn't appeal to me.    Then she turned 4...and we continued to opt out of preschool.  By the time she was officially "school-age"   (and yes,by then she had been weaned for some time) I felt we were firmly entrenched in the "homeschooling world".

Over the years, I've learned that homeschooling is not about "keeping my children out of school".  It's not about avoiding  "those horrible public schools" with all the horror stories you hear. For our family, homeschooling is a continuation of attachment parenting.  It is about listening to our children and their needs, letting them learn at their own pace, free from worries about bullies and the teasing of other kids (ok, so I guess there are parts of school we want to "protect' our children from).  It's about choosing to still be intricately involved in their education. It's about doing what works for each child, even if that means finding something new for child number two.  While we aren't unschoolers, we aren't strict "school-at-home" types, often choosing to follow the irresistible calling of a warm, sunny, spring day or dropping everything for impromtu playdates.

Education is about much more than books and sometimes the best lessons learned happen without being planned.  I love the freedom that homeschooling gives our days, we aren't tied to school schedules or time-lines. We have freedom and time to puruse different interests and acitvites....learning things like ice skating and tennis, theatre and music and dance.   It is having the chance to observe snakes on hikes or writing stories on rainy afternoons   And, the socialization is the best kind there is, with people of all different ages, children of different ages and families who share our values.  Contrary to popular belief, I'm quite sure our children have more friends than they ever would in school. However, the family is still the core of our lives.  Sisters become the very best of friends and it is heart-warming to see an 8-yo teaching her little 5-yo sister how to read.

Not to say that everyhing is sunshine and roses, my house is always messy, and there are days I yell way too much and want nothing more than to drop everyone off for seven hours.  However, when it all comes down to it, we would choose real-learning at home, every time.  I feel that my years of education taught me nothing more than to pursue that 'A', to please teachers, turn my homework in on time, be quiet and obedient and follow the rules.   That is not what I want to teach my children. I want my children to learn that the sole purpose of education is not to get an A or please a teacher that you won't see again once the school year is over.

By bells and many other similar techniques they (schools) teach that nothing is worth finishing. The gross error of this is progressive: if nothing is worth finishing then by extension nothing is worth starting either. Few children are so thick-skulled they miss the point. - John Taylor Gatto
Education is the period during which you are being instructed by somebody you do not know, about something you do not want to know. - G k Chesterton

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Real Food

You might be wondering what "real food" is.  Real food is the food that our great, great-grandmothers ate.  It is food as close to its natural state as possible....food that comes from a plant or an animal....not food that comes from a factory.  Corn is a real food....corn pops...not so much.. Michael Pollan's new book Food Rules and Nina Planck's Real Food: What to Eat and Why both discuss this very concept.   Excerpts from the book Food Rules can be found here.  Some of my personal favorite Food Rules involve:

#1 Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. "When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes or eat something with 15 ingredients you can't pronounce, ask yourself, "What are those things doing there?" Good question, and you probably don't want to know the answer.

#2 Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce. (Always good to stay away from anything you can't pronounce.)

#3 Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. "There are exceptions -- honey -- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food," (Contrary to popular belief..the preservatives in Twinkies won't preserve YOU.)

#7Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car. (LOVE this rule.)

#11 Avoid foods you see advertised on television   (Since we don't watch television, that one is easy for us)

#19 If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant..don't. (Ha-ha...this is where it gets tricky).

#39 Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you cook it yourself. (Another one of my favorites...and of course home-made cookies are far, far superior to anything in a package...and who doesn't love baking cookies!?).

Rule #19 is especially near and dear to my heart, since my lenten sacrifice this year was to avoid processed foods.  Yes...that can get rather tricky at times, and I can't say that I've kept it perfectly.   Still, life is a journey, a learning process and we all grow.  It takes time to make changes.  

When I first starting getting into whole, real foods I'm afraid I spent way too much money on higher quality food.  It takes time to learn a new way of eating AND a new way of budgeting.  This year has been a learning process, as I've had to slash our food bill drastically while not sacrificing quality and still eating real, whole, foods in as close to their natural state as possible.   I hope to share some of what I've learned with you.