Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Vegetarian Diet & Kids January 26, 2013

Filed under: cooking,family,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 5:10 am
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It is always interesting to me how often people assume that a vegetarian or vegan diet is not healthy for kids. Where did we get the idea that proteins from meat are the only healthy ones? Today, I took the kids to the health food store in the city. Our daughter was absolutely bouncing up and down over my buying some tofu. Yep! I said she was excited about tofu. You see, I have learned to cook it in a way that the kids really enjoy. One super easy recipe is to dice it into bite size pieces after it has been drained. Coat in flour, then egg or egg supplement, then coat in seasoned bread crumbs. Baked for a few minutes at 350*F until lightly golden and you have a fun nugget that can be dipped in any sauce you have on hand. She says she likes them better than chicken nuggets.

A favorite food of our son’s is to make vegetable fritters. I make a simple batter similar to pancakes. Into this, I add a variety of finely chopped vegetables. The ratio of vegetables to batter is pretty even mixture of each. Sometimes, I add so much vegetables that it looks like 2 parts vegetables and 1 part batter. I fry on a skillet the fritters, just as you would pancakes. These are always a hit with the kids. To add protein, I simply add some cooked quinoa to the fritters in place of some of the vegetables. Quinoa (pronounced as “Keen-wah”) is a grain that is cooked as you would rice and is a complete protein.

The bulk bins are my favorite resource at the health food stores. I am able to buy many of our food basics at a fraction of the cost. Today, I bought Sea Salt, Quinoa, and Pearl Barley to add to my pantry. I already have gallon jars filled with an assortment of various dried beans, lentils, split peas, and rice. There is also a good supply of all types of vegetables and some fruits. I love how low cost I am able to build up that pantry. The key is to stick with the bulk bins only.

We bought a case of almond milk while at the store. We love this stuff! Of all the alternative milks, this one has the most mild flavor. We use it for everything, just as we would cow’s milk. The advantage is that it is much easier on our stomachs.

There is so many meatless recipes that are healthy for the entire family. I am surprised often to see the surprise that people get in their expressions when I explain that any recipe that does not contain meat, egg, or dairy products are considered to be vegan. For vegetarians who do eat dairy and eggs, the number of recipes common to meat-eaters is greatly increased. To make those recipes “vegan” you only have to substitute the vegan alternatives for the dairy and eggs.

At the grocery store, our daughter asked if we could get Boca Burgers. These are a vegan burger made from soy. We all love them. The kids and I actually prefer them to the meat burgers. That is one of the advantages that we have right now. Even though our bodies feel sick if we eat too much meat or dairy milk, we do have the option of eating them in moderation. This is an advantage in that we are choosing to eat vegetarian/vegan because we love the recipes and how we feel after eating this way. If the kids really want a beef burger or some salmon, it is no big deal. We don’t believe in denying them the choice. So, we now have Boca burgers in the freezer. Our daughter is thrilled!

I can’t wait to see how the diet change affects my weight. I have extra weight to lose and last time I was eating vegetarian exclusively, I lost quite a bit of weight. I was in the best health and weight that I have been in for a long time.


Trip to the ER January 20, 2013

Filed under: faith,family,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:44 pm
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On Saturday, I ended up going to the ER. My legs and lower back were painful with my legs also having some numbness. Long story short, I have had this problem for a while but I was being stubborn. The doctor found that I have a lot of inflammation. In November, 2004, I had been in a minor car accident that caused a back injury. It seems that old injury is coming back to haunt me. The doctor also suspects that I may have Rheumatoid Arthritis showing up. Monday, I will be calling to set up a follow-up appointment at a clinic. Likely, there will be some testing needed to find out for certain.

I am returning to my old diet of eating vegetarian foods, leaning more heavily towards vegan diet. In the past, that helped me to have relief. I seemed to feel much better when I avoided packaged foods, meat, eggs, and most dairy products. The only animal products that I ate were hard cheeses, yogurt, butter, and sour cream.

How will RA affect my lifestyle? As little as possible. I will continue to do the daily tasks that I have always done. The only difference is that I will be portioning out the workload a bit more. Heavier work will be saved until my husband is home from his trucking job so that he can help me.

Already, I have been scaling the work down. That is in part the reason why I am working towards getting the house organized. Once the work is done, I will have an easier time in the daily maintenance.

The doctor sent me home with a couple of prescriptions. I will be taking Prednizone for 3 days and a muscle relaxer as needed. I am not entirely thrilled to be taking medication. I am looking at the more natural alternatives. Getting back to the vegetarian diet is only the first step.

On a fun note, my husband and I are doing something new on Monday afternoon. I haven’t been able to wear a wedding ring due to metal allergies. So, we found a tattoo design that we are getting done on our ring finger. The tattoo artist we are going to uses only organic, metal-free inks. I am really excited about this. On our anniversary, February 17th, we will be renewing our wedding vows after church services. When we married, it was very small with only the pastor, his wife, and members of their family. There were no friends or family of our own in attendance. This time, we will be married by our own pastor with our church family there with us. It is such a wonderful time for us.

In upcoming posts, I am going to start sharing more ideas on how to live without electricity. I have been really bad about not posting pictures, so am taking another step in that area. I am planning out my blog posts a bit more and listing pictures that may be needed. The future posts that are of a tutorial style will often have pictures or a link to a YouTube video to go along with it. I have been trying to figure out how to do the videos and finally have come up with a temporary solution using an old cell phone. Quality may not be as good, but it will at least give some illustration.


A Hoarder’s Nightmare January 17, 2013

I proudly admit it. I am a hoarder’s nightmare. Why do I say this? In our house, we have a strict rule. Unless it is something like a tools or other essential homestead item, if the items go unused or needed for 3 months, they are not necessary to keep. I can just imagine the gasps and panics that a true hoarder would have at the thought of applying that rule in their own homes.

There are many reasons for why we apply this routine in our family. First, it immediately cuts down on the clutter. We only have around the items that are truly necessary. Sure, we have bits of time when clutter happens. It makes me crazy though. I just can’t stand it. I never have a problem with it at someone else’s home, but it makes me edgy in my own home. I simply cannot relax. If I need something, I don’t like having to search for it.

Living our lifestyle of doing things as past generations did, I don’t have time to be constantly having to declutter and clean. I have enough to do each day without causing myself extra work. I have always dreamed of having a simply furnished home like those the pioneers may have had. They didn’t have excess. Sadly, the “entitlement” mentality of today’s generations have brought about the idea of having whatever we want. But is that attitude really a healthy one? Where are we learning self-restraint? Where are we learning to prioritize? What example are we giving our children?

When I have our home as it should be, with all excess removed, it is fast and easy to maintain. I have much more time to spend doing daily chores and doing activities with the children. Stress levels are nearly non-existant.

I have found that the children play with only a very few toys, yet they have many more. The extra toys end up scattered due to lack of space to store them. It makes no sense to hold on to the toys that are not played with. Instead, they could be donated to a shelter or thrift store so that other kids could enjoy them. If the toys are in very good condition, a church nursery may even have use for them.

In the kitchen, it is very easy to let excess get out of hand. I have a weakness in that area. I see a kitchen item at a thrift store or yard sale and am sure that I will use it quite often, only to find that I rarely use it. I tend to gravitate to the same kitchen utensils and cookware every time I prepare a meal. I tested my theory by placing in the pantry the items I rarely use. If I didn’t need those items within 2 months, I knew I wouldn’t miss it.

I read an idea on some blogs of filling 40 bags in 40 days. This idea is to take a bag and going through one closet or room at a time, fill a bag each day. These are to be donated or disposed of. The idea being that at the end of that 40 day time period, your home will be decluttered. It is a workable idea for those who are not sure where to start. For me, I like to simply take one room at a time and do a thorough job of it. It is very similar to spring cleaning. I just prefer to do it more often.


Wood Stove Cooking January 9, 2013

It has been quite some time since I have written about cooking on a wood stove. I wanted to share a few ideas that I have used to make the process easier.
This picture is one of the wood stove that I cook on. It also provides heat for our kitchen. The stove was made by Atlanta Stoves Works. I love it! The oven is very small, but functional. I went to the Dollar Tree store and bought small baking pans & cookie sheets that are better sized for the oven. The large baking sheets popular for modern ovens do not fit.

The first thing that I do prior to using the wood stove each season is to blacken it. Blackening a stove means that you are polishing it with a black polish designed for cast iron stoves. This polishing process will continue throughout the year, whenever the stove is in need of it. I currently use a liquid polish, but am preparing to order a tin of polish that is about the same consistency as a tin of shoe polish. A cast iron stove needs a good polishing to prevent rust. Periodically, I will notice that an area is becoming dull. This is not only due to spills, but simply the friction of the cookware rubbing against the stove. Whenever the stove is cool enough, a quick wipe with the polish on a scrap of an old cotton t-shirt rag is enough to freshen the stove.

When cooking on the stove, it is important to remember that choices in firewood will determine the amount of heat your stove puts out. Soft woods, such as pine, are fast burning and while they do put out heat, the heat is not sustained as long as a harder wood. A favorite local wood in our area is pecan. It burns very hot and lasts much longer than pine. I try to stay away from soft wood unless I have nothing else on hand. Usually, I will mix it with the hard wood to stretch out my hard wood supply if need be.

Unlike cooking on a modern stove, a wood stove requires much more tending. If you are simmering a pot of soup or stew, you need to maintain the fire. There is a constant fluctuation of heat taking place. I have a set of cast iron trivets of various heights. These are my temperature controls. If I have added more firewood and the stew is at risk of scorching, I put it on a trivet and move it to a slightly cooler part of the stove. You will find that every wood stove has a “hot spot” where foods cook quickest and are at higher risk of burning or scorching. This takes a short time to figure out. To learn your stove’s hot spots, set 6 recycled tin cans across your stove. Fill each about 3/4 full of water. I placed the tins in 2 rows of 3 with one row towards the back and the second towards the front of the stove. I placed one set over the firebox, another set in the stove’s center, and the last set on the far side away from the firebox. I got a hot fire going and watched to see which tin of water boiled first, then second and last. This was all I needed to know on that topic. I learned that my stove is hottest directly over the firebox towards the back. The coolest spot was the front portion of the side opposite of the firebox. This let me know where I could simmer all day without worry of scorching.

In lighting the stove, I learned a trick years ago. Pack a cotton ball with petroleum jelly. I place it onto a piece of bark from the wood pile or the chopping area. The cotton ball lights very easily and will burn for several minutes. It gives me plenty of time to add kindling to get the fire going well before adding the larger pieces of split firewood. A jar of these will last quite a while and do not dry out or lose their effectiveness. Near the wood stove, I would suggest keeping 4 items: the tin of blackening polish with a piece of cloth, a tin or jar of the prepared cotton balls, a box of matches, and a jar of aloe gel. The aloe is there simply in case of a burn. In my case, it is guaranteed that I will receive at 2-3 burns at least just from forgetting to use a pot holder then I grab the handle of a kettle or the cast iron skillet.

In cooking on a wood stove, I have learned that using lids can really help to speed up the process. This is especially true when you are making breakfast first thing in the morning. Our stove usually is cold in the morning, so I use a lid on the kettle so that the contents will heat up faster.

Baking in the wood stove’s oven was my latest challenge. The rack in the oven was not adjustable. I removed it as it was not the right height for my bread pans. I had an extra jar rack from an old water bath canner, which I turned upside down and placed into the oven. This fits very well and is the right height for my bread. To use the oven, I keep an oven thermometer in the oven so that I can gauge the temperature easier. Unlike using a modern oven, I don’t worry about the temperature being exact, but to stay within a 25* range above and below the desired temperature. When I baked bread in the oven, it took longer, but came out very nice. The oven temperature was maintained at about 300-325*F instead of the 350*F the recipe calls for. Even with the temperature causing a longer baking time, the bread was very good.

Wood stove baking is a high maintenance task when compared to modern ovens. Throughout the process, I had to be sure to remove a small shovel of coals from the firebox to place on top of the oven box. To do this, I lifted the burner plates above the oven and scattered the coals evenly on top before replacing the burner plates. This helped to heat the oven more evenly. Otherwise the heat would only have come from the left side of the oven where the firebox is located. After the first 10 minutes of baking, I turned the bread pan around 180* so that the side of the pan that had been closest to the firebox was now farthest away. I did this rotation every 10 minutes. As soon as I saw the top of the bread beginning to brown, I covered it with foil to prevent it from becoming too dark. I also found that it worked best to place the bread pan closer to the side of the oven that was farthest away from the firebox. This was in great part due to my burning hard wood only. The harder wood allowed me to use the coals more efficiently on top of the oven as they did not burn away as quickly as soft wood.

Overall, I love cooking on the wood stove. I enjoy it far more than using a modern stove. I often can cook faster on the wood stove than the gas stove. Especially once the stove has been lit for a while. I cook mainly with cast iron. The only exception being my stock pots. Along with the trivets I mentioned above, the cast iron makes cooking easier. The pans retain heat much longer. As a matter of fact, I always end up using a trivet even when frying pancakes or other foods due to how hot the cast iron becomes.

If you are handy with a needle and thread, a very simple tool to keep on hand are handle covers. Get yourself a couple of square pot holders from the dollar store. Fold each in half and whipstitch along one short edge and the long edge. Leave one short end open so that the cover will over the handle of your pans & skillets. Having some of these will save your fingers from being burned.

I hope that this gives you some ideas on wood stove cooking. There are always so many questions that I am asked that I never know if I have answered them all. Feel free to ask if you have any that were not answered here. Just keep in mind that as you had to practice and learn to use a modern stove, a wood stove is no different. It just takes a little time and experience to learn your stove. Each one has it’s own “personality” of sorts. The hot spots on one may vary from another stove of the same model. Once you start using a wood stove, it won’t take long to become comfortable with it.



Kerosene vs Lamp Oil January 1, 2013

I have received questions lately about the use of kerosene in oil lamps. When I was a kid, we always used kerosene. The idea of using lamp oil was unheard of in our home. As an adult, I have used lamp oil on occasion but was not happy about it. Here is my main reason why I find kerosene to be best for our use.

In our local area, a quart size bottle of lamp oil is sold for about $5.50 per bottle. Some places it is slightly less, some slightly more. The highest price I have found was at a grocery store for $6.49 per quart. The kerosene that we use is the type found at a gas station, sold at the pump just as gas & diesel fuel are. The kerosene has a red dye in it. For the kerosene, we currently are paying $5.29 per gallon. That is a very significant savings of $16.71 per gallon! This is based on 4 quarts at $5.50/each. Another words, I can buy 4 gallons for less than the cost of 4 quarts of the lamp oil.

Lamp oil has the advantage of being “smokeless and odorless” if that is important to you. I find that with the lamps set onto a shelf, rather than on a table, you don’t notice any odor. The smoke issue is controlled by taking care in the height of the wick or in using a smoke bell on the top of the chimney, like those sold through Lehman’s.

On the downside, lamp oil tends to not burn as brightly as kerosene. While the oil burns a bit slower, the lighting it provided for us was less than we receive from kerosene. Overall, the kerosene was a better choice for us.

I like to store extra kerosene for our lamps. When planning how much to store, I simply kept track one month in late autumn. By that time, the days were becoming shorter and we were having more overcast skies. Both of those situations are important to consider. If you gauge your use by what you need during the summer months, you will always end up running short in winter. While our home was built in about 1890-1900 time period, complete with the old style of tall windows to bring in as much natural lighting as possible, we still need lamps at time on a winter or story day.

We use 3 lamps at this time. On average, I fill the lamps every other day in the winter. This translates to about 3/4 gallon of kerosene per week.

I trim the wicks about once a week unless needed more often. A quick note about wick trimming: we have tried 3 types of cut patterns. A point cut with looks like a triangle with the high point in the middle will give you a pretty light, but not as much illumination. The flame will be more narrow, which means less light produced. The second cut was a blunt straight cut. This is simply cutting straight across the wick. This produces a very large flame and the most illumination. It also is the cut that you have to adjust the flame to prevent soot from developing on the chimney. The third cut, which is my favorite, is a combination of the two. I do a straight cut with only the tips of the corners nipped off. This gives a broad flame but causes less soot on the chimney. The soot is mostly controlled by flame height however.

Hope that this answers some of the questions. If not, feel free to ask. I will try to answer as best as I can.