Drive Thru Freezer

There are days when I really don’t want to cook; sometimes it’s hot outside, or I’m tired, or I’m hungry and nothing in the pantry seems to look good.  On days like this, I used to pop over to a local drive-thru and pick up ‘value’ meals for everyone. What was I thinking?

Having a menu and shopping from a list helps curb my lack of desire to cook a little bit, but not nearly enough. There are still days when I want to be lazy. I’ve come up with a solution that works for me. I’ve turned my freezer into a drive-thru. It’s simplicity on steriods.

I didn’t buy expensive microwave meals. I just started cooking extra so I have leftovers to freeze on a regular basis. Now my freezer is filled with delicious foods that I cooked from scratch. All I have to do is reheat them. In most cases, it takes me less time to reheat a meal from the freezer than it does to get the kids ready to drive to the local fast food joint.

How did I start my freezer stash? It was a very gradual process, and it’s easy for anyone to do – I started by freezing cooked meat and beans. I soak and cook two bags of beans intead of half of a bag, Instead of 1 chicken, I’ll roast 2 (425F for 1.5 hrs), Instead of cooking 1lb of ground beef, I cook 10lbs, Instead of making 6 hamburgers, I cook 12 or 18, I cook a quadruple batch of pancakes every week, I double my bread recipe, I cut up twice the veggies, and store the extras after they are cooked.

I store all of the extras in portion sizes that will feed my family or individual sizes that my husband can take to work with him, and I mark everything really well. When I start to feel lazy, instead of stressing out about what is for supper or making plans to go out, I can pull some ready made meals out of the freezer and reheat them.

It does cost me a little bit extra up front, the freezer bags and storage containers can add up – but it’s saved me money in the long run. More importantly, I feel better about the food we are putting into our bodies. I know what the ingredients are, I know my family will eat it, and I know I don’t have to feel trapped in the kitchen when I’d rather be spending an evening beating my kids at monopoly. 😛

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Veggie Lovers

My kids are beginning to love vegetables. You see, I’ve been sneaking veggies into their meals. That is one of the biggest advantages of cooking from scratch – you can control and change the ingredients.

Here are some of my favorite ways to sneak vegetables into our diet…

brocolli in taco meat

zucchini in brownies

spinach, tomatoes, and peppers in meatloaf

carrots in pancakes

radishes in mashed potatoes

The list goes on and on, but the point is the same. I just chop up the veggies as small as I can get them, and add them to whatever I’m making. I’ve made a few mistakes (don’t try to add diced carrots to banana bread), but I’ve gotten the hang of it now.

I don’t lie to the kids about it, I’ll happily tell them to truth if they ask what is in something – but half of the time they don’t believe me.

Tonight, I’m going to try to sneak some okra in our mini chicken pot pies. Think they will notice?

Land Questions

In our search to find the perfect-for-us property, I keep finding myself asking the same two questions over and over. My internet searches have left me more confused than I was before I started.

Is it better to buy developed or undeveloped land?

I suppose there are pros and cons to both developed and undeveloped land.

Developed land would be less expensive and time consuming, since a lot of the structures are already existing. It would already have a sewage system, water set up, and possibly electricity running to the land. It might be fenced and cross fenced, which can be a huge expense. It might be cleared and the soil might have been amended properly, so it could be easier to start and maintain a kitchen garden and pastures. There could be existing fruit and nut trees on the property that have been taken care of and are already producing on a regular basis.

On the other hand, the structural layout of the land might not work for us in the long run. The house and barn might not be built as well as it could have been if we had been involved in the process. The previous owners could have used multiple layers of various pesticides that could remain in the ground for years. The house might be too big or ill suited for our family. The house might be positioned in a way that would not take advantage of any solar panels we might want to add. It could be a lot more expensive to fix someone else’s mistakes than it would be to do it right the first time.

How many acres do I need for my homestead?

I’ve read that anywhere from 3 to 30 acres is needed for self sustainability for a family.

That is a huge difference, but which is closer to my family’s personal needs? I have a husband, a 15 year old stepson, twin 13 year old sons, and a 3 year old son. My stepson lives with his mom full time in another state, so we only get occassional visits with him. I still want to include the possibility of him being with us in my planning, so I’ll assume that I need to feed a family of six off of our land. How big of a garden must I have? How much land do I need for the animals we will need to raise for eggs, meat, milk, cheese, and fiber?

According to my current library book, “How to Live on Almost Nothing and Have Plenty” by Janet Chadwick – the average homestead garden is 80 x 100. My math might be off, but I think that is about 1/5th of an acre. That is larger than my current suburban lot and it’s 16 times the size of my current garden. I’ll also need extra veggies to help feed the animals we plan on having. I’ll go ahead and assume we will dedicate of acre of land for the house and garden. That seems reasonable.

We want to have areas to grow Corn, Oats, Wheat, and Alfafa. I’m initially planning on allowing 1 acre for each of these crops and 1 acre set aside to rest. These 4 crops will be rotated on this 5 acres.

This puts me at 6 acres and that doesn’t include grazing land, a fishing pond, outbuildings, a barn, pens for animals, an orchard, or a wood lot. I also want to be able to look out my back porch and have a great view and not a view of the neighbors.

Looking at the numbers, I would say that our minimum acreage requirement for self sustainability is going to be around 25 acres. I’d much rather get on the higher side of that number, as there is only a limited amount of land, and the bigger our property is, the more opportunities there are for income generating. I think that anything over 30 acres would be ideal.

Our current plan is to consider anything that comes on the market in our target area that is in our acreage range and price range. I hope that one property will just sing to us, and we will know that our it’s going to become our forever home as soon as we see it. We haven’t found it yet, but I have faith that we will, when the time is right.

The Good, Bad, and Funny

We always try to have supper together as a family. It’s a nice family tradition that everyone looks forward to. This is getting a little harder to do now that my husband’s work hours changed to 4 long days instead of 5 regular days. But, even when he is working, the kids and I make the effort to enjoy each other’s company and eat together.

As important as I feel it is to have family meals, I think it is even more important to have quality family meals. So, we came up with a simple game that engages everyone at the table, and gives us glimpses into each other’s lives. It’s called ‘The Good, Bad, and Funny.’

It doesn’t even really need an explanation – we just take turns saying something good, something bad, and something funny that happened to each of us that day. The only rule is that each memory can only be said one time, so multiple people can’t use the same things.

This has been going on for a few years now, and we all look forward to it each night. Guests are not omitted from the tradition, which puts some of them on the spot, but it’s all in good fun.

Today –

My good thing is that I finished my workout and I have a ton of energy. Also – I have a delicious homemade iced coffee in my hand right now. Yummy. I haven’t had coffee in the house for awhile, so this is a real treat.

My bad thing is that my three year old is allergic to something and we aren’t sure what it is. I know it’s a food allergy, since his lips and tongue were swollen to double their normal size. This isn’t the first time he has had this reaction, it’s just the first time I could pinpoint what he ate that caused it. Spicy salsa. I’m not sure if he is allergic to tomatoes, jalapenos, citric acid, or a random preservative. His doctor referred us to a pediatric allergist, so I’m going to have to get him tested. We also stocked up on children’s benadryl – just in case.

My funny thing is that birds got to 3 of my 7 ripe tomatoes this morning before I could harvest them. The ate my tomatoes and ignored their bird food. Figures! (This actually wasn’t funny when I first noticed it, but now that I’ve had my coffee I can see the humor in it.)

So, what is your Good, Bad, and Funny for today?

 

Solar Bread Fail

I’m bummed out about the bread. The bread rose so high that it fell, so it wasn’t very pretty to look at. The website I found suggested a 2 hour cook time, I left ours out there for 5 hours. It was cooked through – but very chewy and not nearly as good as it usually is.

I think I might have just picked a bad day, the temperature never got above 85F, and it was a little overcast. We are supposed to hit 98F today, and it’s supposed to be nice and sunny, so I’m going to try again with yeastless pizza crust. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

 

Solar Oven

My menfolks finished building my solar oven. I asked them to make it for me a few weeks ago. They just finished it on Tuesday, and yesterday was cloudy, so today I am going to try it out.

The found a large cardboard box, and spray painted the inside of it with high heat spray paint (it’s made for ovens and grills). Then, they made a levelling chamber at the bottom of the box. They added aluminum foil around the top flaps of the box. The glass that they used was recycled from our neighbor. It was a little too big for the box, so they cut a long slit in one side of the box so the glass can slide into place.

It’s perfect and it only cost $5 and a few hours worth of time while they figured out the best way to build it with the materials they had on hand. They finished it just in time for the 100 degree weather to start. I’m glad I have a way to cook without having to turn the oven on. I’m going to try to bake bread with it today. I have one loaf covered and one loaf uncovered, just to test it out. I hope it works!

If you use a solar oven on a regular basis and have any good recipes that I should try – please let me know. I need all the help I can get with this thing.

Ninety Days

Ninety Days from now is September 18, 2012. I’m setting myself the goal of having our current house on the market by then. It’s a little annoying that our house’s value is currently 20% less than what it was when we bought it – but luckily, we bought it 14 years ago, and we still owe less than it is currently worth. After paying realtor fees, closing costs, and repairs, I don’t expect to make very much, but I don’t think we will owe anything either.

My hubby has been bringing home boxes from work, and I’ve gotten some things packed. I’m marking things well, so I hope I can find them again when I need them. I’ve got a moving system. I mark what it is, where it came from, where it goes, and it’s order of importance on a 1-3 scale. Things that are marked with a 1 will need to be opened the first week we are in the new place, and things that are marked with a 3 will be things that are seasonal or things that aren’t used often. I’m only packing things marked with a 3 right now. I haven’t ever had to move an entire household as an adult, so this is going to be a learning experience, that’s for sure. Do any of you seasoned movers have any tips for me?

I think it is a little crazy to be putting our house on the market 3 weeks after school starts – and I hope it sells right away. But, I’m trying to be realistic. Houses in our neighborhood are taking months to sell, and I want to be prepared to wait if we need to. The twins are going to be in 8th grade this fall, and I want to move before they switch to high school for 9th grade (at the latest).

Someone else bought the property that we liked. They are currently waiting on the inspection. We knew it was a possibility, and I’m okay with it. I don’t want to get emotionally attached to a property and make an offer on anything before our house sells. I trust God’s plan for us, and I trust that he will lead us to the place he wants us to be.

Ninety days – that feels like such a long time from now, and yet when I look back at where I was ninety days ago – it was the end of March, which feels like just yesterday.