Friday, November 19, 2010

Why Did the Chickens Cross the Road?

For almost 2 years now, my husband and I have been making many steps toward a healthier (and more frugal!) lifestyle. We started simple: switching our sweetener of choice from refined sugar to Sucanat and raw local honey; switching from pasteurized milk for me and soy milk for dh to fresh, local, raw milk (which I prefer to call real milk); and milling our own flour from whole grains.

This year, we added a few things to the mix. Having moved into a house with a gigantic yard (and a landlady who actually asked us to have a garden), we started with four raised garden beds, and then added a long row for corns, beans, squash, and watermelon to all grow in tandem. Then we thought, "good, free range chicken is so expensive, but we really do not want to eat all this soy-filled, antibiotic laden, factory chicken." So, we ordered some chickens from a hatchery and have a few hens for laying, a loud, but gorgeous rooster (appropriately named Chauntecleer), and several large breed birds to put in the freezer. That went relatively well (though we lost quite a few of them to neighborhood dogs), so we recently ordered several more chickens to add to our layers and put quite a few more broilers in the freezer (and share some with friends and family).

We know several people who have chickens in the city limits (city is a misnomer, by the way, our tiny town is comprised of about 10,000 people), who have had no problems with City Code Enforcement. Everything changed for us yesterday. Just as I was trying to get back to sleep for a bit after a long night with our newborn, CCE came knocking on our door loudly (and early!), telling us that we cannot have chickens in the city limits.

Frustrated. Disheartened. Discouraged. Angry. All of these words applied. We have invested a lot of time, energy, and money (which is the hardest of the three to come by, it seems) into these birds, and had no problems with any neighbors or anything in the near year we had been raising them. However, the Code Enforcement Marshall who came by did not serve us an official notice, which put my husband on the research trail.

As it so happens, the state of Georgia has a law that our Marshall apparently does not know about. On top of that, there is another, more precise bill presently awaiting a vote in the legislature.

The law, signed by Governor Sonny Perdue in May of 2009, states that "No county, municipality, consolidated government or other political subdivision of this state shall adopt or enforce any ordinance, rule, regulation or resolution regulating crop management or animal husbandry practices involved in the production of agricultural or farm products on any private property.”

We are hoping this is enough to allow us to keep our hens and the broilers, though we are giving our loud rooster away to our dairy farmer. In case it does not, however, we are encouraging all of our friends in the state of Georgia to contact their representatives in support of this bill, which states:

(b) No county, municipality, consolidated government, or local government authority shall prohibit or require any permit for the growing or raising of food crops or chickens, rabbits, or milk goats in:
(1) Home gardens, coops, or pens on private residential property so long as such food crops or animals or the products thereof are used for human consumption by the occupant of such property and members of his or her household and not for commercial purposes; and
(2) Community or cooperative gardens, coops, or pens on any portion of any private lot made available for such purposes by the occupant thereof so long as the total lot size is not more than 2.75 acres and the food crops or animals or the products thereof are used for human consumption by the growers and raisers and members of their households and not for commercial purposes; provided, however, that the slaughter of goats kept pursuant to this Code section shall be prohibited.

If you live in the state of Georgia, please contact your representative ASAP! The rights of individuals to raise food for themselves that keeps to our preferred health standards should not be compromised!  If you live elsewhere, contact your representatives in the state government and tell them that you want similar legislation protecting your right to grow your own food; or better yet, contact your state representatives to encourage them to vote no on S.510! 

This post is a part of Save Farm Freedom Friday @ Kelly the Kitchen Kop. Visit her page for more great posts!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Can the Canned Pumpkin (Donald Trump Style?)

So, I love pumpkin soup. As the calendar creeps towards Thanksgiving and Christmas, I get excited about all things pumpkin: Pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie, and definitely pumpkin soup. This year, though, as I have been getting more focused on real foods, I decided I would try and make a pumpkin soup from scratch! How hard could it be, anyway?

Turns out it is pretty easy, and the taste is far superior. First of all, do not use a jack-o-lantern pumpkin. They are bigger, sure, but they have less meat and, apparently, less flavor (the flavor part I have to take from the lady at the farmer's market. I have no experience with this of my own).
Here is a picture of the pumpkin we used:

This pumpkin, rather than the bright (almost garish) orange, is a nice putty/beige color.  And it is heirloom, so you can bet we are keeping the seeds. But when you cut it open, it is twice as bright as the insides of the orange pumpkins. The bright color is a good indication that this pumpkin is pretty high in Vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), among other things.

So, to make pumpkin soup from FRESH pumpkin is actually a fairly simple task. Step one, cut the pumpkin in half. Rather than saw off the top and try to scoop out the insides (like you would when carving a pumpkin), cut it vertically in half from top to bottom, and scoop out the seeds. I have heard that the seeds are easier to remove once the pumpkin is cooked, but when your pumpkin is an heirloom variety and you want to save the seeds for your garden, cooking them first is a very bad idea.

Step 2, lay the pumpkin flesh-side down in a baking pan. You can use a cookie sheet, if you do not mind the smell of scorched pumpkin juice as it runs all over your oven. This was the first lesson I learned yesterday. Not unbearable, the scent is akin to burnt marshmallows. Oops.

I guess step 1 should actually have been "preheat your oven to 375," but I am going to pretend I already told you that. Step 3, then, is to place the baking dish in the oven for about 45 minutes.

Step 4: Remove the dish from the oven, and allow the pumpkin halves to cool for approximately twenty minutes. This step is vital if you are at all attached to your fingertips in their current, unblistered state.

Step 5 is much easier than you would think. Grasp the (hopefully) cooled pumpkin rind, and pull upwards. If all goes according to plan, you should now have a surprisingly thin and flimsy pumpkin rind in your hand, and a pile of orange goo in your baking pan (this is the pumpkin "meat").

Now, add to your recipe. Pumpkin is pumpkin, volume-wise (though I have learned that taste-wise, this is NOT the case!), so add the same amount as is called for with canned pumpkin.

Last year I made pumpkin soup with canned pumpkin, and Dh thought it was "okay." This year I made the soup with FRESH pumpkin, and he said, "You better freeze the leftovers so we have some for after the baby!"  BIG difference.

This is not my pumpkin soup. We ate it up so quickly (and froze the leftovers so quickly) that I forgot to take a picture.  This picture actually comes from here.

If you have a good farmer's market nearby, finding some high quality pie or soup pumpkins should not be too difficult. So can the canned pumpkin this holiday season! You are in for a very pleasant surprise if you do!

This is the pumpkin soup recipe I used. I should warn you, however, that I am not responsible for what happens if you follow the recipe exactly, haha. I realized as I was getting the soup ready that my husband had used the last onion (and not told me!), so I used green peppers (from our garden!) instead. Then, as I was smelling the nearly-finished soup, I decided it needed a dash of nutmeg and cardamom, too.  And I added some freshly ground black pepper. I did not really measure...not my style with spices. So, play around, have fun, and enjoy!

This is a part of Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop! Find more great posts there :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Last Official Pre-Baby Menu??

Nine days till our due date! Not that I am naive enough to think that DS will arrive exactly on time, so we are quite aware he could come early or late. I am not feeling incredibly uncomfortable, so I am kind of hoping for the extra time to prepare; and yet... several of my pregnant friends have recently had their LOs, and I am starting to get a bit jealous! I would love to hold our baby boy, and I am really looking forward to our birth experience, in our home!

We do have several freezer meals made up, and are anticipating meals from our church, and my mom is going to be with us for about a month; so menu plans from here on out may be sporadic. I may get one more in next week, if DS does not come before then.

Up this week:

Tonight (Monday) - Roast Chicken Breast with Rice and Vegetables
Tuesday - Pumpkin soup, Wheat Bread, Sausage (from our pig!)
Wednesday - Chicken & Biscuits (Our chicken and whole wheat biscuits)
Thursday -Roast Ham (in the crockpot), sweet potatoes / veggies
Friday -Breakfast for Dinner (Grits, Bacon, Eggs)
Saturday - Leftovers (Roast)
Sunday - Family birthday / group barbecue - we're providing meat for burgers

That's it for our meal plan.  Head on over to OrgJunkie for more great meal plans.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Meal Planning - We Are Still on the Wagon

Well, as my due date draws closer, time seems to find all kinds of things to be crowded with.  We have been taking the time to diligently meal plan; but I have not been taking the time to post our plans. Actually, as I have gone from working in the office to freelance writing from home, it seems I have fallen off the face of the blogosphere all together.  I am really wanting to remedy that, though, as I would rather write about these things than how many ways there are to skin a cat in Minnesota (anyone who has done freelance article writing online certainly understands that sentiment, I am sure).

We received a very pleasant surprise today: Dh went to our dairy farmer to get our milk, and checked to see if he had any beef yet (he said closer to October last time we spoke with him).  Well, he did not have the new beef yet, but after dh helped him get a cow back into the pasture, he gave us a shopping bag full of steaks and ribs he had in the freezer. Gave. Things are a bit tight these days, so that was a huge blessing.  Tonight we are having sirloin! (A side note: If you have never cooked grass finished beef before, or have cooked it with not-so-great results, head over to Kelly the Kitchen Kop to check out this post. Cooking grass finished the same way you cook commercial beef can lead to some tough results!

Regarding the pig we split with a family from our church: We worked our way through the pork chops, tenderloin, and roasts pretty quickly. We have another roast left, but mostly a good bit of sausage and lots (and lots) of ribs. Add that to the beef ribs we just got from our dairy farmer; and we have decided that the next few Sundays are officially "Rib Day."

Taking inspiration from many of the amazing real food bloggers I have been reading, I also decided that we would freeze the remains of one meal a week for freezer meals post-baby. I will have my mother here with me for a month, and friends visiting, so I know it may not be a drastic necessity; but I wanted to have at least a week's worth of back-ups, just in case. So far we have frozen the mixed up (but raw) beef mixture for Barley Burgers, Venison Sausage Chili (Dh's amazing creation), Pork & Cranberry Stew (we had a gluten-free guest that night so it is made with rice instead of barley). We actually have two nights worth of the stew frozen, all thanks to being only two people with one large crock pot ;) .

We were also very blessed with an abundant (and I do mean abundant) harvest of sweet potatoes.  For our first garden together, most of our planting yielded sparse results. Good, quality, heirloom and heritage fruits and veggies, but not in the greatest quantities. Sweet potatoes, it seems, were the exception to that rule. We planted 2 sweet potatoes in about 4 pieces (after sprouting them), and they took over our backyard. So, I have plans to freeze enough baked sweet potato for a few sweet potato pies (I need to do that before the baby comes, for sure!) for Thanksgiving and Christmas; but otherwise, we have them stored in the crawlspace under the house and we're just trying to incorporate them where we can.  So on this meal plan, you will see several meals with sweet potatoes, and now you know why!

One last little addendum.  My last checkup with my midwife had me reading as slightly anemic. Not a huge deal, but being due in 2 1/2 weeks (give or take), I decided that everything with grain is going to be soaked this week, even things I don't normally soak (like crepe batter, or rice for the risotto). Though I am not sure yet exactly where I fall in the phytic acid debate, I figure that this week I need all the help absorbing iron I can get.

Monday - Spinach/Tomato/Mozzarella Fritatta, Whole Wheat Toast (from our homemade soaked WW Bread)

Tuesday - Hamsteak (from our pig!), Sweet Potato Risotto (Yes, I am soaking the rice for this)

Wednesday - Breakfast for dinner - Sausage (from our pig!) & Egg Crepes (with soaked whole wheat crepes)

Thursday - Spaghetti with garlic bread (again with our homemade soaked whole wheat bread), and steamed veggies

Friday - Pan Fried Chicken, Veggies, Rice (soaked, and cooked up with a little bit of chicken stock - hello flu season!)

Saturday - Cozy Quinoa Casserole (We are revising this one to exclude the ground turkey - since it is really not necessary - and to replace the Acorn Squash guessed it! Sweet Potatoes! Plus, we are ignoring all the "low-fat" and "low-sodium" parts of the directions. Only full fat cheese and our homemade chicken stock work for us!)

Sunday - Beef Ribs, Cornbread (soaked), and Baked Sweet Potatoes.

Visit Laura @ I'm an Organizing Junkie for more great menus!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Aug 23

So we are plunging into another week, finding ourselves closer to our due date (just 8 1/2 weeks away!), and finding our schedules absolutely crazy.

This week we have childbirth class on Monday night, a baby shower for a friend on Tuesday, and our usual equipping class / home group for church on Wednesday.  Thursday is my late night at work (till 7), so Thursday and Friday evening we have absolutely no plans, and we are not going to make any!

Because of this, there are no food experiments this week, or trying of any crazy new things.  We're trying to keep it pretty simple so we do not go crazy (and I do not get too behind on keeping up with the cleaning).

I only have a few more weeks of work left; a prospect which has me very enthused that maybe I do not have to burn myself out entirely just to get our house ready for a baby.  As much as there is left to do regarding turning our "this is where everything that does not have a home goes" room into a nursery, I am leaving most of it until I am no longer working.  With Third Trimester exhaustion setting in, it just seems to be all I can do to work full time and keep up with dishes.  My midwife said I was a bit anemic again, and I have been taking Hema-plex for a few days.  I certainly do feel better already, but I am not expecting to feel as great as I did toward the second half of last trimester, so I am not going to push it.

Without further ado, the menu plan:

Monday - Taco Night!  Whole wheat tortillas, ground beef, tomatoes from our garden, and the rest of the typical taco fixings.  We make our own taco seasoning, and we love it!

Tuesday - Pork Stir-fry with Brown Rice.  The pork is from our own "home grown" pig :)

Wednesday - Spinach & Cheese Frittata (with farm fresh, pastured eggs)

Thursday - Crock-pot Chicken Pot Pie.   It is not really time for such "winter foods," here in GA, but we were looking for a tasty crock pot dish and this sounds delicious :)

Friday - Leftovers

Saturday - Fried Chicken, steamed veggies.

Sunday - Leftovers

Find more great menu plans at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Menu Plan August 16

Last week we had a menu plan, but did not keep to it very well.  Between dh injuring his back and me being bowled over by the exhaustion that the third trimester suddenly brought back to the fore, I was not prepared for all the changes in our schedule last week.  This week I am a little more focused, because weeks where we do not keep to the plan really remind me how much planning helps!  I have a plan in place for meal prep, and that is going to make things much easier.

No crazy events this week, it is pretty typical.  I have a friend coming over Monday to help me start getting the baby room organized.  With 9 1/2 weeks to go I definitely need to get that together ASAP, so I am very grateful for her help.  Other than our weekly Bible study on Wednesday, it should be a fairly low key week!

Monday - Barley Burgers, steamed veggies

Tuesday - Roast Chicken (a la Jeff)

Wednesday - California Salad (with Chicken left over from the roast)

Thursday - Spaghetti & Steamed Veggies

Friday - Pizza (with homemade whole wheat crust!)

Saturday - Pork Tenderloin (a la Jeff, again)

Sunday - Breakfast for Dinner

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday!  See Org Junkie for more great menus :)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Menu Plan August 2 - High on the Hog

The menu for this week is a bit pork-heavy, because the pigs my brother has been raising (We split one with another family, and his family split one with another family) have just come back from the butcher.  I am a little sad because I was hoping to get some lard out of the deal, but no such luck.  They had to butcher the pigs early because a neighbor informed the Marshall that *someone* was keeping pigs closer to their house than 900 feet (a county ordinance my brother was unaware of).  They gave us 30 days before mandating the execution, but still there was really only enough lard to make the sausage.  Bummer.

Anyway, we have some other interesting happenings this week; namely the fact that tonight is our family birthday celebration for July (yours truly, on the 20th) and August, as well as a welcome home party for my brother in law who just returned from Iraq.  The birthday person's family does the cooking...and since dh baketh not, and little unborn Joshua cannot do much in the kitchen yet, it meant I threw together a lasagna (yesterday, to bake today) and an ahhhhhmazing chocolate cake.  This is seriously an incredible whole wheat cake recipe.  I think the secret lies in using melted bakers' chocolate instead of cocoa, as well as almost all of the leavening ingredients being liquid.  You get a cake that is moist and delicious!  I doubled the recipe and made layers, and since dh is not as chocolate obsessed as I, I'm throwing a white chocolate ganache between the layers instead of the dark chocolate ganache I'll be using to top it.  Just wanted to throw in a little variation to make him happy since the other cake will be an ice cream cake and dh cannot have too much pasteurized dairy without getting sick.  We will have 2 Italian lasagnas and one Brazilian Lasagna (courtesy of my sis), so I'm pretty sure my lunches at work this week will consist of leftovers of our own lasagna.

OK, so that is the info on the week; without further ado, our menu plan:

Monday:  Lasagna (Other family members are making the freshly milled whole wheat bread, and the salad).  Decadent Chocolate Cake

Tuesday: Quinoa Risotto (using leftovers from the freezer because it is my late night at work) and sauteed squash.

Wednesday:  Salad with grilled chicken

Thursday:  Pork steak (this is actually from the freezer...needed to use it up before we get to our new pork reserves) w/mashed sweet potatoes and steamed veggies.

Friday:  Leftovers (another late night)

Saturday:  Pork Roast w/ Potatoes (from our garden!!) & Carrots (organic from the store...ours do not seem to be ready yet)

Sunday:  Leftovers (there is always more than enough roast)

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday @ Org Junkie!  Visit for more great menus.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Writing it down

So, I have been regularly menu planning for the last several weeks, but finding the time to blog about it has been harder than I thought.  My time has instead been focused on reclaiming my house from the few months of pregnancy exhaustion.  I am not feeling too badly about neglecting the blogging world, though, because I feel like I finally got a great system in place. 

I started with the kitchen, and just committed to learning to clean as I go from here on out (I have always been the "dive in and clean up afterward" type).  All this time I thought taking the time to clean while I was doing things would take longer, and it turns out that I actually get more done in a shorter amount of time.  How taking the time to do an extra step gives me more time, I will never be able to figure out, but I am certainly glad it does.  So the idea was to just commit to maintaining the kitchen, and then the next weekend tackle a different room.  So during the week I am only really worrying about the rooms I have already overhauled, and then on the weekends I add a new area to the list.  I am only a few weeks in, but so far it seems to be working really well, and I have still had the time to relax and enjoy a bit of the evening with dh most days.

That said, I have decided it was time to get back on the menu planning wagon.

Monday - Tonight we had breakfast for dinner.  Yummy french toast (made with pastured eggs and raw milk, of course) and venison sausage, with some fresh mango on the side.  The syrup was a simple syrup I made w/sucanat (2 c. sucanat to 1 c. water), mixed with some leftover freshly mashed berries from my freezer jam experiment.  Very easy fruity syrup.

Tuesday -  Fried Chicken (dredged in pastured eggs and freshly milled whole wheat flour), garden-fresh corn on the cob, rice

Wednesday - Black beans & rice w/Chicken (in a homemade enchilada sauce)

Thursday - Beef & Barley Burgers

Friday - Leftovers

Saturday - Chicken marinated in olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs, pasta alfredo (homemade spinach tomato alfredo sauce), steamed garden fresh green beans

Sunday - Leftovers

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday at Org Junkie.  Stop by for more great menus :)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Menu Plan Monday June 21

I was pleasantly surprised, this week, to find out that my mother and my sister will be coming to town this next weekend. As a result, we are only planning for half a week, this week. They will be in town late Thursday night, so we are planning Monday through Thursday. I have two other siblings who live in town, and between the three of us we will certainly each have a hand in providing meals between Friday night and Sunday night, but none of us have really planned all too much what this weekend will look like yet. We will probably end up doing something kind of potluck-ish.

The pork chops on previous menu plans keep getting pushed off and out of the way for other things. Not that we dislike them, but things keep coming up. Today, for example, is Father's Day, and my dear husband (who is already such an incredible father and our little Joshua is still 4 months away from joining the party) really wanted to roast one of our chickens today. He worked very hard this week at getting our meat birds out of the coop and into the freezer, so instead of pork chops we're having a delicious roast chicken, stuffed with a mix of apples, oranges, celery, garlic, honey, and a little white wine. So the pork chops are kicking off this next week, instead.

Monday - Pork Chops, Summer Squash Sautee, Multigrain Rolls

Tuesday - Breakfast for Dinner (whole wheat pancakes, eggs, bacon)

Wednesday - Chicken & Biscuits (with homemade whole wheat biscuits & leftover chicken from Sunday)

Thursday - Hot Dogs (Nitrate & MSG Free) w/whole wheat buns, steamed veggies

And that is our (short) week!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

More Iron-Rich Menu Planning

So last week dh had the dreaded summer sinus bug that has been going around in our community, and he had no clue what he wanted to eat. Add to that the fact that during this pregnancy I have almost never known what I want to eat ahead of time; and you get a complete lack of a menu plan last week. Ah, well. At least I got started the week before, after far too long of an absence.

This week, though, I have some things I need to try. My ever wonderful and completely amazing managed to score some grass-finished liver from our local dairy guy...woohoo! I know that I need to try to get more iron in my diet; and I know that traditional foods like organ meats are ridiculously good for you, now I just needed to find a recipe I thought I might like. At some point I would love to try Kelly the Kitchen Kop's recipe as an appetizer for an event or something; however since my goal is loading up on iron and there is so much cheese in her recipe (read about why you should not combine dairy and iron rich foods during pregnancy), I figured it would be better to leave off on that for now. It looks delicious, though, and I can't wait to try it out sometime!

So, without further ado, this week's menu plan. I am pretty excited about it.

Monday - Calves Liver with Sherry (We're actually using just normal beef liver from grass-finished cattle)

Tuesday - Pecan Breaded Chicken Breast (This is not an iron rich recipe, this is a calcium rich recipe, but my growing baby needs that, too!) NOTE: We are not using the butter/veggie oil combo recommended here, we are using all butter instead.

Wednesday - Serbian Ground Beef Veggie & Potato Bake (I think we're going to be subbing in Sweet Potatoes instead. They are iron-rich, much tastier, and much healthier than plain ol' potatoes)

Thursday - Smoked Sausage Fritatta (We are subbing in some venison sausage in its place. It doesn't get any more "free range & grass finished" than that, right?)

Friday - French Bread Pizzas (my late night at work, so it is a low key dinner. We are going to use homemade, fresh mozzarella from real milk that I'll make on Wednesday.)

Saturday - Huo Guo (This is Chinese for hot-pot. I know it is not really soup season anymore, but I've been learning a bit about Asian cooking because I have learned that I really miss Chinese food, and the only way to really get it MSG free is to make it at home with Tamari instead of regular soy sauce. I'll be using my homemade chicken stock as the soup base.) The recipe for this can vary from time to time, but this time we will be using thinly sliced beef, perhaps some chicken (also thinly sliced so it cooks well in the broth), Chinese broccoli (aka kailaan), carrots, taro, green onions, and whatever other veggies we can think of at the time, as well as rice noodles, and dried shiitake mushrooms.

Sunday - Pork Chops, Mashed Potatoes, and Steamed Vegetables (This is a carryover from the other week, dh got sick and wanted soup, so we ditched the pork chops)

And that is that! This post is a part of Menu Plan Monday at Org Junkie. Visit her for more great menus!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Menu Plan Monday May 31

Well, pregnancy exhaustion and food aversions have kept me from menu planning for most of my pregnancy to date, but I am finally back at it. Why? Well my midwife took one look at me the other day and said, "You look really pale. Are you getting enough iron?" A quick peek behind my lower eyelids confirmed her suspicion. "You need more iron."

It is not so hard to get more iron, is it? Well, I learned from my midwife that calcium binds with iron and pulls it out of your body, so that iron-fortified Ovaltine I've been chugging is absolutely useless. Putting calcium-fortified cheese on my burger, again, useless. So realizing that I need to plan more which foods go with which, I decided it was time to put an end to this pregnancy-induced laziness and get back on the meal planning track. Without further ado...

Except for today, I'll include Breakfast & Lunch, I have yogurts and such as snacks throughout the day as well; since I'm needing to keep calories up as well as needing a calcium boost.

Monday - Beef & Barley Burgers

Tuesday -
Breakfast: Soaked Oatmeal w/Bananas and Honey
Lunch: Ravioli
Dinner: "Ken's Scallops" & Non-Dairy Quinoa Risotto (The recipe is actually "Vegan," but we're using chicken stock instead of vegetable broth. My interest was not in something meat-free so much as in having iron-rich quinoa with no dairy to steal the iron)

Wednesday -
Breakfast: Soaked Oatmeal w/banana and honey
Lunch: Dinner Leftovers
Dinner: Tacos w/grass finished beef, homemade guacamole

Thursday -
Breakfast: Creamy Quinoa Porridge with Raisins and Honey
Lunch: Egg Salad Sandwich on homemade Whole Wheat Bread
Dinner: Out with friends

Friday -
Breakfast: Creamy Quinoa Porridge with Bananas & Honey
Lunch: Egg Salad Sandwich on homemade Whole Wheat Bread
Dinner: (My Late Night @ Work) Nitrate-free and MSG-Free hot dogs, Baked Sweet Potatoes

Saturday -
Breakfast: Pancakes, eggs, bacon
Lunch: Tuna Salad Sandwich on homemade Whole Wheat Bread
Dinner: Homemade Chinese Dumplings (fried in Lard) We are using a fermented soy sauce called Tamari that is MSG Free.

Sunday -
Breakfast: Banana Muffins
Lunch: Leftovers from Dinner
Dinner: Pork chops, Mashed Potatoes, and Vegetables.

This is part of Menu Plan Monday. Find more great menus at Org Junkie.

Edit (Tues Evening): Because the scallops and the risotto are brand new recipes for me, I wanted to let you all know how incredible it turned out to be. So filling, so delicious; I highly recommend making either or both recipes. The only "problem" is that the risotto recipe has a much higher yield than I realized. We're freezing some, and we still have copious leftovers. If you have a big family, this is a great dish!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Real Food Wednesday - MSG-Free Taco Seasoning

We make the food decisions we make for various reasons. For some it is health, for some it is cost, and for some it is taste. Although there are many good reasons - from a health point of view - there are myriad reasons to avoid MSG, I have the added incentive of being allergic (as many of you know). Since learning that - even when the name is different - most of the seasoning packets for making just about anything contain MSG, I've been striving to restock my collection of seasonings with good MSG-free options. No one wants life to be flavor less, and I am particularly un-fond of migraines and stomachaches, so something had to be done.

Before I get to this great recipe I stumbled upon, a few MSG-related facts.

Aside from MSG, you may see it listed on an ingredient label as autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed soy protein, maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, or the ever ambiguous, "natural seasoning." The way they made it may vary, but the end result is just the same.

Aside from allergy, some other reasons to avoid MSG are that it is known to assist in weight gain (and, really, who wants help with that?), and has also been shown to exacerbate conditions such as lesions on the brain.

Alright, so that is the real deal about MSG and why it should be avoided at all costs. Now here is the recipe.

What we do differently: We do not add onion powder or garlic powder. Instead, when we cook the ground beef (preferably grass finished), we saute freshly minced garlic and onions along with it. We feel like it is much better flavor, and of course you get the health benefits of onion and garlic that simply are not present in the powdered form.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday. Visit Kelly the Kitchen Kop for more great posts!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Real Food Wednesday - Great News (and a Great Giveaway)

OK, so last week I posted about the whole weight loss endeavor, and I failed to mention (intentionally, actually) that part of the other reason that I am very satisfied with slow weight loss is...

We are pregnant!!!!!

We were waiting until we saw the little one on screen to say anything. And at this point, while I realize I am still only 20% of the way to my weight loss goal, I'm giving up on having any kind of focus on it. Still going to be eating well, still going to be using my treadmill desk, and hopefully anything unnecessary will slip away while I retain what I need for Baby, but no weight loss focus anymore.

Eating right for Baby

DHA is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for brain development in children. Naturally, this speaks to a need for moms-to-be (and those trying to conceive) to get a lot of DHA in their system. How do you do this?

One great source of DHA that is also an amazing source of Vitamins A & D is fermented cod liver oil (fclo). I have used fclo because omega-3s are also great for persons with ADHD, and can attest that it was a huge benefit to my health and to my focus as well, not to mention that Vitamin D helps prevent just about every type of cancer, because it is essential for cell regulation (cancer = growth of abnormal cells, so that makes sense). So, even if you are not pregnant, there are plenty of good reasons to start taking fclo.

Energized by returning home from my trip to the doctor's office, clutching the ultrasound picture of my still minuscule baby, I was thrilled to see that Kelly the Kitchen Kop is hosting a giveaway on her site for FCLO!! Of course I already take it, but being stocked up throughout my pregnancy is a priority for me, and it an be expensive. Though it seems that, health wise, it could more expensive to go with out it.

If you're at all interested in trying cod liver oil, you should definitely head over to the giveaway and check it out!

Other Ways to Get DHA

Other foods you can eat that are high in omega-3 oils in general - including DHA - are eggs, certain fish, and flax oil supplements (not as high as fclo but still a good source). The eggs should be from pastured hens, because chickens that are able to eat grass and protein-rich insects are the healthiest chickens, and healthy chickens lay healthy eggs. Good omega-3 rich fish include salmon, cod, and tuna. If you are pregnant, you should not eat these fish more than 2-3 times a week (largely because of mercury levels), and there are certain types of fish you should not eat. Talk to your health care practitioner, be it midwife, doctor, or other. If you want to take flax oil, and you prefer to take the liquid to capsules, do not cook the liquid, as heat is likely to make the oil go rancid, and even create free radicals that are very harmful to your system.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday hosted by Cheeseslave. Check out the other great posts here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

Okay, I know everyone is saying this, but is it really March already??? I know February is the shortest month and all, but where on earth did it go? On Saturday I am hosting a friend's baby shower in my home (my friend asked me to help her plan it, along with another friend, and of the three of us I have the largest home - which, sadly, isn't very big - so we're having it here). I am very excited about it, but I cannot believe it is in 5 days! I have so much to do to prepare!!!

I had been asking the guy we get real milk from if he had any cream available, and he's always telling me no. So I have been frustrated because the only options nearby are "ultra pasteurized" cream, and I know that is not optimal. Well, apparently I just needed to send my husband. Jeff went out to pick up the milk this time, drove up in his ginormous truck and talked farm animals for a moment. Asked him if he ever just skimmed cream for anyone and now he'll have 2 gallons for us on Friday. I know that seems like a lot, but I'm hoping to experiment in making cultured butter, and freezing some. As well as keeping some on hand to make sour cream and such. soooo excited about that!!

OK, so on to the menu plan:

Monday - Stroganoff with Venison cubed steak, steamed veggies.

Tuesday - Wild caught cod. We're actually doing our version of fish n chips in our continuing to learn about frying with lard. Instead of normal "chips" we'll be doing Sweet Potato Fries.

Wednesday - Pizza! Great whole wheat crust recipe I got from Passionate Homemaking.

Thursday - Chicken & Biscuits

Friday - Stirfry (a la Jeff), with MSG-free organic Tamari. mmmmm.

Saturday - Beef & Barley Burgers with grass finished beef. A low key meal for a busy day!!

Sunday - Pork Roast (also a la Jeff. He loves his roasts).

For Saturday's shower I am making my classic guacamole, as well as getting a fruit tray with a yogurt dip (I will admit, I cannot get enough of them), making coffee punch (not a health food, but so yummy. Decaf for the mommy-to-be), and I think that's it. I cannot post the recipe for the coffee punch, sadly, but my recipe for my easy and awesome guac is as follows:

5-6 Avocados - very ripe but not overly mushy
1/4 of an average sized onion
1 tomato
3-4 cloves garlic
salt & pepper to taste
fresh chopped cilantro (to taste)
Juice of half a lime
(optional) 3-4 small chili peppers (I generally leave this out because it is a little too spicy for me)

Chop avocados, onion, tomato, garlic in a bowl. Juice lime, add cilantro, salt, pepper, and chili peppers. Blend with a fork until mashed, but avocados are still chunky. This almost ends up more like an avocado salsa than a standard smooth guacamole.

This has been a part of Menu Plan Monday. See more great menu plans at Org Junkie.

Last Minute Edit: Wanted to share a picture of my incredibly delicious pizza! Chicken, spinach, and mushroom.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Losing Weight With Real Food (and regular exercise)

Through a series of events beginning with when I got married, I gained about 20 lbs over the last year and a half. Definitely nothing to qualify me for The Biggest Loser or anything, but certainly enough to shock yours truly - who formerly belonged to the club entitled, "I can eat anything I want and still lose weight. In fact, when I overeat, I somehow lose weight."

Before getting to weight loss, we should address what caused the gain:

1) I am not in college anymore. By this I mean, instead of a fresh faced 19 years old with a metabolism that resembled a speeding bullet, to being 27 years old, very near to the "big 3-0." Not a huge factor, I don't personally think, since none of my family members seemed to gain weight until they were having children, and I have yet to experience that.

2) Birth control. When dh and I first got married I went on The Patch. I figured it was the best means of birth control that would also be reliable. I was wrong. While on the birth control, I gained about 15 pounds. Then I gained 5 more when I got off the birth control. I learned that this is because women and their fat retention are directly related to estrogen production. An excess in estrogen means your body will "collect" fat. A sudden drop in estrogen such as what happens when you get off birth control causes your body to automatically "cling" to that fat, in case you run out of estrogen. So getting on and then off of birth control caused issues there.

3) Depression eating. When we had been off the patch 4 months, we started trying to start a family. We got pregnant pretty much right away, and because that whole time I had been exercising and trying to eat in ways that were better for fertility, I actually lost 6 of those 20 lbs in 6 weeks on my treadmill desk. Losing the baby a month later, though, I gained all 6 of those lbs plus 4 back because I could not stop eating. I have struggled for a long time with overeating in the past (of course, it really never affected my weight. Somehow back then I ate with supposed impunity).

OK, so now on to what I've done to lose weight, and what it has to do with Real Food:

First of all, I cannot neglect the important factor of exercise. As I briefly mentioned above, I work on a treadmill desk. I walk at a slow pace (1-2 miles an hour) for the majority of my work day, Monday-Friday. This averages about 8-10 miles a day. This has definitely played a part in my weight loss, but it is important to note that I was on this same treadmill desk while I was stuffing my face over depression in the winter, so the treadmill desk alone is not enough.

When the new year began, I new I needed to take drastic action. I wanted to get down to a reasonable weight before we got pregnant again. I had just watched the documentary Fat Head with my husband, and we decided we needed a lot more protein in our lives. Particularly because I had been hypoglycemic in the past (though our use of sucanat instead of sugar, as well as our switching to real milk, both seem to have played a role in balancing my sugar), I thought it was important to try and implement some of these things.

Protein Based Snacks.

Usually I bring granola (complex carbs and some protein) to work with me as a snack. I did an experiment for a few weeks (which I have sense tempered as I will describe). I only brought hard boiled eggs and mozzarella cheese with me for my snacks. Lunches were salads with chicken. I felt so full during those days, and had ridiculous amounts of energies, but I had to work hard to get up to 1600 calories. Amazing. Who knew low calorie could be so satisfying, and so easy??

I tempered it a little bit for the sake of avoiding monotony. I do also bring my homemade granola for one of the snack items. We have started eating eggs and /or bacon many mornings for breakfast. Recently I switched even that up to full-fat yogurt, a hard boiled egg, and granola with real milk.

I am eating full fat of real fats, fewer carbs (but not eliminating them entirely). When I do eat any grains or other carbs, I try to combine so that I am eating them with high protein foods. We have switched to frying our fried foods in pork lard.

These are all things that the mainstream food media tells us will make us fat, and what are the results?

I have lost 4 lbs in six weeks. It does not sound like much, I know, but it has been consistently down. On the treadmill desk before, I lost an average of a pound a week, which is exactly what the average is for work-walkers. based on my weighing in, it took me about 3 weeks to lose the first pound. That is, I think, partly because while I was implementing the new eating habits, I wasn't exactly doing away with the junk food I had grown so accustomed to while I was depression-eating post-miscarriage. Took me a few weeks to wean myself off of the chocolate. Regular weighing showed, though, that I was at least not gaining any more. Then, when the weight started to come off, it came off consistently at about 1 lb per week, just like before.

I will certainly keep periodic updates on the progress, but I am thrilled that I have already lost almost half of what I gained in the winter, and exactly 20% of what I gained overall. And I am not feeling deprived. I am not craving anything because I am feeling satisfied. This is a "diet" I can live with and not yo-yo on. And - in addition to slowly but surely losing the weight I gained - I feel amazing. More protein has meant more energy for me, and who couldn't use more of that?

This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday, visit Kelly the Kitchen Kop for more great posts!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Enjoying an Easy Week

Hey Everyone!!

My family has been in town since late Thursday night. My parents traveled down from the Adirondacks to see my sibs and I, and their many many grandchildren. Friday night of last week through this Tuesday, dinners have been at my brother's house because it has the most room for everyone. We've all taken turns providing meals, but it has mostly been my sister and my sister in law, which has been a total blessing, because I've been pretty sick this week. The nasty head cold that was going around moved in, and then switched up it's game and became a chest cold. YUCK! Anyway, this week's meals do not actually start until Wednesday for us.

Wednesday - Chicken Soup (from homemade Stock) to try and chase away the last of this cold.
To Do - change out kombucha

Thursday - Homemade Hummus, Naan, and Tabouleh

Friday - (My Late Night @ Work) Dinner out

Saturday - Chicken Breast sauteed in garlic and onions, steamed veggies, Rice

Sunday - Pan Broiled Venison Steaks, Sweet Potato fries (fried in Lard), steamed veggies

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday. See other great posts at Org Junkie.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - New Real Food Baby Steps!

Before the menu plan, Valentine's Day weekend:

For the weekend, dh and I took our usual Valentine's Day trip to Greenville for the Winter Jam concert (because we like to pretend we're still in college sometimes, haha). It was a great concert, with Third Day headlining. I have loved their music for eons, but I have never actually seen them live (which, I believe, is shameful). I am not saying that any of the other artists were insincere, but I have got to say that the sincerity and genuine heart that the guys in Third Day have for the Lord and for ministry is so apparent in what they do and how they interact with the people while on stage. The other bands that were there included a new kid to the scene - Robert Pierre - who is only about 17. I will simply say he could learn a lot from Third Day, but he is quite young yet so there is plenty of time for that. Also joining the line up was an Aussie band called Revive, who I had never heard before but really enjoyed, and Sidewalk Prophets who I had also never heard, but quite enjoyed. Everyone else I was quite familiar with: Fireflight, Tenth Avenue North, Newsong, and Newsboys. Having grown up listening to the Newsboys, it was very strange to see them with only one Aussie member (Duncan) and fronted by Michael Tait (formerly of dc Talk), but it looked like they were having a lot of fun together, and the music was fantastic. That is part of my V-day present from dh every year since we started dating (we are on year 3 of Winter Jam).

The other exiting thing about going to Greenville is Whole Foods. Now, I understand that not everything for sale at WF is actually healthy, and I am disheartened to hear from Kelly the Kitchen Kop that they are adopting a new marketing strategy and implementing new literature that is going to promote a vegetarian-focused, low fat, "heart healthy" diet that veers away from the real food focus they had previously seemed to espouse. However, here in our tiny town we have no source for good, inexpensive, grass finished beef and free range poultry products, like we can get at Whole Foods in Greenville. Sadly, nearly all the chicken farms in our area are owned by Field dale or Tyson, and they are the deplorable - low, long, and dark- chicken houses you might have seen in Food Inc. So, even though I had just heard of the sad news on Whole Foods, I was more than happy to go and stock up on the meats I needed. And I got a pleasant surprise I had never seen there before - Lard! Pork lard in the refrigerated section from local pits. Lard that did not have to be "shelf stabilized" with tons of hydrogenated oils. A small pail was less than $5, and so I figured it would be a great way to begin cooking/frying with lard, and see how we like it. I could hardly contain my excitement, because even though we have begun using butter more, we had not had the opportunity to try lard or tallow yet for our favorite sweet potato fries or for onion rings. So....this week will include beer battered onion rings with grass-finished bone-in beef shank! Cannot wait to try it.

I do have to say, though, we did get some funny looks from people who heard we wanted to buy red meat and fry things with lard. Their new agenda is obviously setting in already.

On to the menu plan:
Monday - Chicken Soup with Barley
To Do: Sunday night, make stock. Monday morning, soak Barley

Tuesday - Chicken and biscuits (made with fresh chicken stock and meat leftover yummy free range chicken)

Wednesday - Beer Battered Onion Rings (ala the Kitchen Kop's recipe), Grass-finished Bone-in Beef Shank, Steamed Vegetables

Thursday - Taco night with Grass-Finished ground beef.

Friday - Family in Town - Dinner TBA

Saturday - Family in Town - Dinner TBA

Sunday - Family Birthday Party - Lasagna

Also, a question for anyone who might have an answer. I've never cooked with organ meats before, and these chickens we got from WF still have the gizzards and hearts, and I am curious what some good recipes/methods of cooking are. I've gotten a few ideas here already, but I'm wondering what other options there are. Any help is greatly appreciated!!

This is a part of Menu Plan Monday with Org Junkie. Fine more great meal plans there :)

Friday, February 12, 2010

2 Great Giveaways!!

There are two amazing giveaways at Nourishing Days. Each does deserve their own paragraph:

The real way to clean up a dirty mouth is not Orbit, it is Miessence Organic Toothpaste. Fluoride free is just the beginning: Miessence is also alcohol, glycerin, and detergent free. The disinfecting agent is actually none other than.....Aloe Vera! Who knew?? Flavored (functionally) with antimicrobial peppermint, clove, and spearmint oils; your mouth will not taste medicinal after brushing anymore.

The next giveaway is a treasure for sure - free enrollment in a Traditional Foods e-course by Real Food Blogger Wardeh Harmon. The course costs $27 a month for 5 months, and covers subjects such as soaking and sprouting grains and beans, naturally pickling foods, making dairy kefir and water kefir, and more! The course is already a great value, but getting enrolled for free is even better!!

Check them out, it is definitely worth your while!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Real Food And Theology? Accept No Substitutes

Also posted at Ezekiel's Valley.

I was pondering aloud with dh the other day; wondering why it is that The Food Police seem to think that they need to convince the world that the food God gave us will kill us. Then, just phrasing it like that, I had an epiphany.

Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden because they believed they might be like God, and all the time since then we have been trying to prove that we are autonomous beings, not created, but accidental: We decide that God did not create us, we evolved - as though it is some great feat we should pat ourselves on the back for. "Hey, look at us! We single-handedly turned ourselves from a single celled organism into a walking talking human being!" We don't need to worship our creator, we can create gods for ourselves and worship them. It began with food (eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil), why would it not continue with food?

After all, we were created in God's image. God is a creator, and we long to create. You can see that in the fact that we love to build, to create art, to have children. The problem is not with our desire to create. God put that desire in us. The problem is that sin in us distorts that desire. Our desire to create mutates into a desire to create better than God does. It evolves into a desire to be solely independent of our Creator, left to only create and control.

So we see the food that God gave to us in nature, and we try to do one better. God said, "Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. " We take corn and turn it into hydrogenated corn oil and high fructose corn syrup. We inject cows, chickens, and pigs full of chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones so that they grow faster, bigger, and "better." We spray poisonous chemicals to protect fruit from bugs, and so poison the honey that is a healthier, natural sweetener with natural healing and soothing properties. We take what is natural, what God gave us; and we twist it like sin nature twists us. And we have inexplicably rising rates of cancer, heart disease, genetic mutations (not the cool comic book kind, but the real and painful kind); just like the persistence of sin in humanity leads to social cancers like envy, theft, murder, and adultery.

We did not start eating real food for theological reasons. We learned through research and the pursuit of healthy living that meat, butter, cheese, whole grains, and vegetables were better than rancid oils, sugar, refined flour, and MSG. And when we found out how much better, we could not figure out why people keep pushing the fake junk down our throats. "Meet the Buttertons" commercials tell you that margarine is better than butter, without telling you that indigenous tribal peoples all over the world who have high amounts of butterfat in their diet have straight teeth, healthy skin, and practically no incidence of heart disease. I do not know about anyone else, but I have dealt with the pain of braces, and my kids are going to have straight teeth if I can help it.

It boils down to trust. There are foods that God told us were good for us. Do we trust Him? Would God tell you to include something in your diet that was going to give you heart disease or cancer? The thing is, in our humanity, we take what God gives and we try to go further. We think that saturated fats being healthier than polyunsaturated fats means that we should mainline them. Honey was almost always known as a healing agent. Sweet and soothing, honey has antimicrobial properties that can help fight infection, settle the tummy, and soothe the throat. So what does wisdom (a.k.a. common sense) tell us about honey? "If you find honey, eatjust enough-- too much of it, and you will vomit ." Honey is one of the things God said the Israelites would find in the Promised Land. Honey is not a bad thing. Overindulgence, though, makes you sick.

We may have started eating real food for different reasons, but we keep eating real foods because we trust that what God has for us is the very best we can get. We do not want the world's imitation food, just like we do not want their imitation love, their imitation success, imitation pleasure, and imitation life. Jesus said in John 10:10 "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." I want life. I want a full life. I want to trust God's best for me.

DISCLAIMER: I am not saying that NOT eating real food is heretical, NOR am I saying that eating real food makes anyone more righteous than anyone else. This is SIMPLY an interesting look into the reasons why it may be so hard for scientists to accept that real food is better. Aside from pharmaceutical company payoffs.

This is a part of Real Food Wednesday!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Valentines Week Menu Plan

Hey Everyone!!

Last week had some switches: Jeff was sick on Santa Fe Soup night, so we did breakfast for dinner instead (nothing like scrambled eggs and toast when you're not feeling well!). Also, tax refund = night out, we went to our favorite little Haitian restaurant here in town. I had the Oxtail with Fried Plantains....mmmmmm! We're "take two"ing the Santa Fe soup into Santa Fe Chicken (also a la Jeff as before).

Monday - Tilapia Sauteed in Butter w/Lemon & Lime Juice, brown rice and steamed green beans.

My recipe was pretty easy: Melt (copious amounts of) butter in a frying pan, add garlic, salt, and pepper to your preference (we like a lot of garlic in our house). Place thawed Tilapia fillets in the butter, squeeze the juice of one lime quarter and one lemon quarter over fillets. Turn fillets carefully (they get more fragile as they cook), and squeeze 1/4 lemon and lime over other side. I used a small skillet and so only cooked two at a time, so I would use half a lemon and lime (all together) for every 2 fillets being cooked.

Tuesday - Spaghetti, whole grain garlic bread

Wednesday - Breakfast for Dinner: Sweet Potato Pancakes, Scrambled Eggs, Bacon

Thursday - Stirfry

Friday - Santa Fe Chicken

Saturday - In Greenville for Valentine's Day (Dinner out)

Sunday - Venison Steaks, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Veggies

For more great menu plans, visit Org Junkie!

Sorry I have not been posting here as much. I have started writing more devotional-themed blogs at Ezekiel's Valley (my other blog). Check those out!!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

Hey Everyone!

Date with dh tonight meant that my meal plan is up late...which is odd since I have had it planned since Saturday, but here it is:

Monday - "Beef" stroganoff w/ venison cubed steak & whole grain pasta

Tuesday - "Santa Fe Soup," This was Jeff's idea and so he's finding the recipe. I'm thinking it'll be something like black beans, chicken, corn, etc. I'll post a basic recipe after he makes it!

Wednesday - Home Group night (busy busy) so leftover stroganoff

Thursday - White Chili in the crock pot.

Friday - Chicken, Rice & Pinto Beans

Saturday - Homemade hummus & Naan, Tabouleh

Sunday - Leftovers Parade (hopefully some leftover hummus will be featured!)

For more great menu plans, visit Org Junkie!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Back to "Normal" Life

Shortly after my New Year's Res / Menu Planning Post, things went kind of crazy here. DH had to return our rental car down 4 hours south of us where his mother lives, and then was gone for several days helping friends of ours paint their new house and get it ready for their move. Our friends have just moved to Kentucky, so when he helped with the painting he was out of state. I ate meals with other people (who likes cooking for one?) and spent time with friends I don't usually get time for; so there was no menu plan for that week.

The very next week we were out of town on business. I do not like to eat out all the time, and our suite did have a full kitchen, so we ate two or three meals at home, but I felt it was hardly enough to lay out a menu plan. And then this week as we returned from that trip we were so jet lagged and exhausted that we threw together simple meals or ate out.

Finally, we are back home, and getting settled in here, and I have laid out already the menu plan for this week (which I will post tomorrow).

As for the rest of my New Year's Resolutions:
1) I have already lost 3 lbs since the beginning of the new year (about a pound a week). I may post a bit more about how I have been doing that for Real Food Wednesday.
2) I have spent time getting things reorganized in the time Jeff was gone two weeks ago. However, things got a bit disorganized in our packing for / returning from my business trip. I'm hitting things all over again starting tomorrow.

3) and the most important one...

I have been thoroughly enjoying my time in the word, making time for Scripture reading in my daily life. I am currently reading through the One Year Bible, but I am finding that - when I have completed the chapters for the day - I want to read more. That kind of hunger for the Word (instead of internal pressure to do "what I should") is an amazing blessing. God has been teaching me a lot as I have been learning to give Him my time.

The reading, paired with a desire to exercise in the giftings God has given me, led to my creating another blog linked to this one. Ezekiel's Valley is where I am writing about whatever things God lays on my heart, whether from Scripture reading from that day or hearing a sermon, or anything else along those lines. Check in, I will be writing frequently.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Menu Planning in the New Year!

It's Menu Plan Monday, and of course this is rather late in going up, but least it is still Monday :) As noted in previous posts, the closeout of our year was hectic, emotional, crazy busy, frenzied, and bittersweet. But even though all of this newly learned "organization" went out the window, there were definitely good things, too.

Somehow, every single Advent devotional we did tied in directly with what is going on in our hearts and minds as we grapple with grief, feelings, and faith post-miscarriage, post-layoff, and - even more recently - post car accident. That was amazing. To think that devotionals about prophets, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, angels, and the like would all hit some important nerve (and I do mean all) is just astounding. Christians today often talk about how to make the Gospel more accessible, more relevant to people's every day lives, how to tie it all in. Well I can tell you that grieving from the loss of our first child and reeling from an unexpected layoff, something in the Christmas story met me right where I was. Our devotional was not, "Advent Devotions for Recently Bereaved Families," and the writer did not try to manipulate the prayers included to fit our circumstances. But the Word of the Lord did not return void, and even though I cannot tell you what in the story spoke to me, I can tell you that I cried nearly every evening as the Word laid bare the broken pieces of my heart and poured out His grace on it.

I am truly grateful that - even though I could have done so much more to dive into His presence in this time - God took the time to use a familiar (and because of that often discounted) story to minister His grace and mercy to us.

I do have some "resolutions" as I move into the New Year. We'll go from most shallow to least shallow:
1) Lose about 20 lbs (unless, of course, we find ourselves pregnant again, which we hope to)
2) Be more consistent in getting to the gym in the mornings (which of course ties into the first)
3) Be more consistent in meal planning
4) Be more consistent (are we sensing a theme, here?) in housework
5) Be more consistent in daily time with the Lord.

Not so much a resolution, but definitely a goal: With the garden we'll be planting this spring, and opportunities to join in with others for certain other farmed food , I hope that we'll find ourselves GMO free well before 2011

Onto the meal plan:

Monday - Dinner with friends

Tuesday - Rice & Beans, Salad

Wednesday - Lime & Cilantro Chicken, Black Beans, Rice, Guacamole
Dessert: Epiphany cake! I'm going to just have a simple cake. All that makes it an Epiphany cake is a nut or a bean hidden in a piece for the "King for the Day" to find.

Thursday - Crockpot day - Venison Stew

Friday - Night out with my home-group ladies, potluck savory apps and desserts

Saturday - @ Jeff's mom's to pick up our new (to us) car!

Sunday - Chicken, Spinach, and Mushroom Crepes

I have family coming to town this week, so any of these meals are really subject to change if we all head over to my brothers, or all go out, or anything like that. But here is the bare bones plan. I am finding I need that to be able to stick with this more consistently.

Find other great Menu Plans at Org Junkie!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Closure and Moving Forward

I have a confession to make: I let it all slip these last two months. All the careful menu planning I had so diligently been training myself to do, making our bread, keeping the house clean (which I'd finally managed to get into a routine about right when we lost the baby), and caring too much about all of the above.

Between the joy of being pregnant and the grief over the loss of our baby, dh losing his job, and then our car accident 2 weeks ago, I began to feel very battered, emotionally and spiritually speaking. I thought I was processing my grief, frustration, and fear; I thought I was striving to truly TRUST God to provide in the midst of all of this. I thought I was doing okay. But in reality, we were cruising along on autopilot. One look at the way I was keeping (or not keeping) our house, the way I was stuffing my face, and the way I was diving head-first into every diversion that presented itself to me would make pretty evident that what was actually going on was full scale running from our pain and circumstances. I knew that God was in the situation with us. I knew that He wanted to redeem our circumstances for our good, and - more importantly - for His glory. But I could not bring myself to let Him have it. I could feel the grace of God all around us, and I was grateful for that, but I have not been seeking to lean in closer, to rely solely upon that grace. I feel it is almost like I just hoped that grace would apply itself to my life while I ran like crazy from what we were feeling.

Our accident, though, was the straw that broke the camel's back. That, and several sermons on joy that were as infuriating as they were convicting and inspiring. So the accident...

I should start this by saying that I was praying for a new car for Christmas, and God answers prayer. The weekend before Christmas we were down visiting Jeff's mother to do Christmas with the family. We had brought our dog down, as well. We got to the house, unloaded the dog and said hello to everyone. Then we ran out for a last minute trip to Lowe's to pick up a gift card for Jeff's brother. On our way back, a vehicle in front of us played a rousing game of "Let's all stop at the green light," and my husband - excellent driver that he is - stopped and left plenty of room between us and the care in front of us. The 60 year old man driving the huge SUV behind us, though, was looking away from the road trying to dial his cell phone. He did not see us slow down, did not slow down himself, and rammed into the back of our little Sentra full speed. We sustained minimal muscular injuries (and spent our Christmas weekend with Jeff's family on muscle relaxants...a little bit dazed, to be sure).

We knew that we were in no way at fault in the accident, and that knowledge was a blessing, we knew that at some point the other driver's insurance would take care of everything. But, for me, the question was "when?" I was worried about the rental car. We had to head back to our place on Monday since Monday was the only day off I had scheduled and I did not want to use any more of my vacation time, and the cop said we would not be able to get a copy of the accident report until Tuesday. We really didn't have any extra money, and so I was worried about that. My parents and their church back home, though, were specifically praying that we could get the accident report early. Monday morning Jeff was able to obtain a copy, and we went off to secure the rental car knowing that we would not have to pay for it. It was at this point that my parents told me that someone from their church had given them some money, and they had added to it, so they were sending us a check for $150. At that point I felt a little guilty, because it didn't seem like we needed the extra...but we went to the rental place and found that - because we had liability and not collision - the extra insurance on the rental car was our responsibility, and it amounted to about $15/day. So the check from my parents covered 10 days of insurance on the rental car. All I could think about was the fact that God knows our needs before we ask Him, and He had sent that money before we even knew we needed it!

You would think I would have learned to trust God right then and there, but when that 10 days was up and we did not see any other sources of money coming to us, I got frantic and nearly had a meltdown over "How are we going to pay for this? Our budget is pretty much down to the last penny every single week!" I did, however, collect myself. And I called my mom and asked her to pray that God would help me trust Him. Jeff and I prayed, as well. The next day we received - three weeks earlier than expected - a check from Jeff's former employer for all of his stored up vacation pay. Praise the Lord, again. As if that was not good enough, the very next day Jeff got a call from State Farm (the other guy's insurance), and they gave us the settlement figure for my car. We still have to get a few things taken care of and sign over the title to get the check, but it was enough for us to authorize work on the car we will have (Jeff's brother said that if we could replace the clutch on a car he has been working on, he would give us the car), and get plans in place to go down and pick it up. God's timing is better than ours, every single time. Not at all during this time have we gone without something we needed. Not at all have we suffered anything more than sore muscles and the loss of my first car. God did not put circumstances before us that He would not walk us through.

Jeff and I spent a day together in Athens, GA; visiting their urban-esque downtown area. It was nice to walk around and spend the day together in a place that has actual coffee shops and boutiques, hippie stores and restaurants, and where the intended mode of transportation is actually your feet. Some of the things I miss about Boston I was able to find there, so that was really nice. More significant than that, though, was the time I had with Jeff at the Espresso Royale Cafe, where God made some things very clear to me...

As I was walking around and reminiscing about "old times," memories flooded to me about prophetic words spoken over me, the calling I know God has placed on my life, and why some of that had not yet come to be. I began to realize that I keep flipping back and forth in one significant way. I feel leading from the Holy Spirit, and my first move is to try and run ahead and figure out what God is doing. Then, catching myself in that, I retreat into full-scale "I refuse to move until God does the moving for me." Neither of those is really the patient obedience, the soft heart that quickens to the voice of its Master, listening well to discern His voice from the worlds. It is anxious running, or fearful "resting." I was either running ahead to try and figure it out and do it myself, or I was so terrified of that prospect that I refused to do anything until I was more than 1000% sure that it was absolutely God; not out of a realization that He is Sovereign, but out of fear that I would screw it up.

Micah 6:8 says "He has shown thee, o man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee: but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." In these "still" periods where my heart is really so restless, I talk a lot about waiting until I hear from the Lord, but I do almost nothing to hear from Him, preferring instead that he knock me upside the head with whatever-it-is so there is no mistaking it. But where there is no quieting of the heart, no humble submission, there will be no revelation, and thus there will be no obedience.

I honestly cannot tell you what in our conversation prompted my heart to that revelation. That did hit me like a bolt out of the blue. But between my realization of that truth and my realization that I was not really pressing into God the way I need to be during this difficult season in our lives, I realized that something had to be done immediately.

I need to be spending time daily in the Word, instead of just reflecting on things I know to be true about God. Meditating on God's goodness and on truths about Him is good, but without daily intake of spiritual food (i.e. Scripture) and drink (prayer), those "ideas" are easily shelved when something difficult comes along. I need to be relying on God for the grace to keep my house clean, in the same way that I need to rely on His grace to deal with my grief over losing our baby. I need to hope in Him for the next child, and not just take my Vitex and "hope" with my fingers crossed. I need to make sure I get enough rest every night, so I can wake early to be in the Word. I need to be writing as often as I can, out of whatever I'm drawing from Scripture and whatever else God lays on my heart. Gifts that do not get used will atrophy. I cannot just sit here and hope that God writes a sermon, a blog, or a book with my name on it. I need to be willing to be used and to be in the position to be used.

And so, New Year's Day was spent beginning the long process of getting my house back in order. Just realizing that it was the biggest symptom of how "not okay" I have been, the decision to put my physical house back in order came with a wave of tears. Tears at realizing just what a very difficult two months we had just finished. Tears at realizing that I do still hurt over the loss of our baby, and that I was bewildered at the loss of Jeff's job, and that I was frightened over our accident and the loss of our car. I cannot plunge into this "reformation" of sorts in my own strength. I know anything I try apart from Christ will ultimately fail. And so I refuse to continue playing the part of Icarus, but I will soar in the heights on the wind of God's grace. For they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:31).