Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Off-Grid Gas Stoves Option March 24, 2014

Filed under: cooking,homesteading,off grid — ourprairiehome @ 9:05 pm
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This month, we had a rude awakening. We were buying a new gas stove to replace the one we currently use that doesn’t have a working oven. In years past, having a gas oven was always the popular option. During storm seasons, a gas stove insured that you had a method to cook when the electricity went out. It would seem that is no longer the case.

We went to the store to buy the gas stove and learned that all of the gas stoves sold in our area now require some electricity to ignite the burners and to run the oven. It is a part of the safety features that the government has placed on the stoves. The system saves of gas usage since there are not any pilot lights to keep lit. This was extremely frustrating to find out.

After we got home, my husband and I began to do some research. The Amish had to have some way to cook without using a wood burning stove in the hot summer months. They don’t use electricity, so what was available to them?

After checking online, we learned that there is an option available. By special order, at many stores, you can buy new gas stoves that have 9 volt batteries to run the electrical system instead of electricity hook-up. We did a search for gass stoves with 9 volt batteries and found many stores, including Best Buy, Kmart, and Lehman’s. The brand which Lehman’s carries is Brown Stove Company. The price for the stoves we looked begin in the $450 range and up.

We plan to order a stove soon. With so many stores offering the option of having special orders and online orders delivered to a local store, it cuts out the shipping costs. It is a good option to consider. Especially if you live in an area that has a lot of storms that bring power outages.

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Extreme Couponing? pt. 2 February 26, 2014

Filed under: cooking,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 3:39 pm

In my last post, I mentioned that I had bought 2 months’ worth of groceries for $124.  Most of the items that I only have to add a little from my current pantry stores to in order to make a meal.  Most everything purchased was on sale.  Many of the items such as the boxed meals are not or typical meal choice, but are items I consider “filler” for days when a fast meal option is needed.  Soon, I will be making a shopping trip to do bulk food shopping at Sam’s Club and Whole Foods.  Those foods will be more in line with our typical cooking style.

(4) Old Orchard brand juice bottles, priced 2/$3

(4) Barilla Spaghetti, priced 4/$5

(4) Bush Chili Beans, lg cans priced 2/$3

(12) taco Bell refried beans, priced $1.00 each but was given $6 off at register

(12) boxes of Velvetta Skillet Meals, priced 3/$5

(4) boxes of herbal tea, priced $2.38 each

(4)  1 lb bags of elbow macaroni, priced 98 cents each

(5) 1 lb bags of lentils, priced 98 cents each

(5) 1 lb bags of split peas, priced  98 cents each

(1) large bag of the store brand of shredded cheddar cheese, priced $4.99

(2) loaves of sara lee country potato bread, priced $1.69 each

(4) lg. pouches of salmon, priced 2/$4

(2) lg. cans of StarKist Tuna, priced 2/$5

I was doing so well, that I splurged and bought a few snacks that were on sale:

(2) Chips Ahoy cookies, priced 2/$5

(2) Oreo cookies family packs, priced 2/$7

(1) 30 oz. Animal crackers, priced $3.99

And, not to be left out, I bought kibbles for our cat:

(2) sm. Bags of Purina cat food, priced 2/$8

 

Okay, so how if this 2 months’ worth of food?  Easy!

4 meals of spaghetti using homemade sauce from the supplies I have in our pantry already.

4 meals of Indian tacos, using the chili beans

6 meals of burritos (2 cans of refried beans each) with homemade tortillas

12 meals using the Velvetta skillet meals, adding a handful of pasta from the pantry if needed

4 meals of mac & cheese or tuna casserole using the macaroni

10 meals of lentil stew

10 meals of split pea soup

4 meals with salmon cakes

By adding vegetables from our pantry, to any of the above meals, I now have enough to make 54 meals!   This does not take into account the large bag of shredded cheese that I will use for making cheesy rice with tuna or veggies, stuffed baked potatoes with broccoli and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and much more.  I didn’t buy any breakfast food since we already have several large boxes of both hot and cold cereals, oatmeal, and I make a homemade pancake mix.  Lunches are usually sandwiches unless we happen to have leftovers from the previous day’s evening meal.  With all the meal options that I have, and adding a bit from the supplies already on hand, the purchases made in that one shopping trip will give me meals for a couple of months.

Note, meals like the lentil stew and split pea soup are very economical when you add a sandwich to a cup of soup instead of making the soup the only item in the meal.  I love to stretch out the lentils by making Kashari and serving it over homemade pasta or some rice.

 

 

 

Monthly Grocery Shopping January 2, 2014

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:16 pm
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A few years ago, we would do a once a month grocery shopping trip.  It was great.  I would plan out the menu for the entire month and write out the grocery list accordingly.  Life happened and we got out of that habit.  I am amazed at how our grocery bill has risen since that time.  Not only have prices gone up, but I was not as well planned as I needed to be in order to get the best use from our budget.

We are going back to that method of shopping.  In part to lower our grocery costs, but also to save me the extra trips to the city.  The closest grocery store is 10 miles away and over-priced.  Being the only grocery store within 20 miles of their location, the store can pretty much charge whatever they want and people are stuck paying it.  The produce quality is the topic of a long running joke.  Its quality is what most stores would be weeding out of their displays, yet this store charges full price.  We learned quickly to buy only fresh produce if we planned to use it that day.  If you wait much longer than the day of purchase and you will run a high risk of the produce spoiling.  To get good quality produce, we have to travel about 45 miles or more from home.  If we want good deals on the prices we pay for our groceries, we have to go to the larger cities 80 miles from home.  Needless to say, making a monthly shopping run is much more cost effective than weekly trips.

The first step in setting the shopping trip up is to write out a menu.  Some people like to make a monthly menu but I prefer to write up weekly menus.  I plan up to 8 menus for each season (warm and cold weather) which I can choose from.  For any given month, I simply pick out 4 weekly menus and put them in the order I want to use them.  For your convenience, I have a printable Weekly Menu Planner with the shopping list form for free download.

As I write up each menu, I keep a list of the ingredients needed for each meal.  I write each ingredient on a sheet of notebook paper and keep a tally of each item.  I don’t record each individual seasoning or spice unless it is a seldom used one that I would need to purchase.  Once I have tallied all the ingredients for the menu, I write the grocery list for that week on the weekly menu grocery list form.  I keep the menu with its shopping list in a sheet protector in my household binder.  Recipes that are in cookbooks are noted on the menu with the cookbook name and page number.  Recipe cards for my own recipes are placed in the sheet protectors as well.  This keeps it all well-organized for me later on.

When I am ready to plan a monthly menu, I choose 4 of the weekly menus.  Each is placed in the order in which I plan to use them.  I then write up a monthly grocery list by copying the grocery lists on the back of the weekly menus.  I add up how much of each item is needed.  This gives me an idea of what bulk size package to buy.  For example, instead of buying a couple packs of boneless chicken breasts, I would buy a large bag of frozen boneless chicken breasts and break it down into the amounts needed once I got it home.

Now, you may be wondering how I manage buying bulk packages of meat when we don’t use a freezer.  I home can the meat once I get it home.  Let’s say I needed 4 meals with chicken.  I would buy 2 bags of frozen boneless chicken breasts.  From that, I can parboil the bags of chicken until nearly done and slightly pink in the center.  I would cut or shred up some of the chicken and pack meal size portions into canning jars.  You could also place whole boneless chicken breasts into quart size canning jars.  I love to cut up a chicken breast into a canning jar and pour the broth over it.  This makes a great soup base.  Another idea is to shred some chicken and mix with BBQ sauce before canning.

For ground beef, I have browned it until nearly done before draining and rinsing the meat to remove the fats.  I spoon the ground meat into canning jars and fill to about ¾ full.  Add sautéed diced bell peppers, onion, and minced garlic for a great meal starter.  Often, I will can the meat up plain so that I can use it in any recipe.  For beef stew meat, I brown it well, then place into canning jars.  You can use broth over the meat or not.  It all depends on how you plan to use the meat later.

If you have access to a freezer, you would simply break down your packages of meat into meal size portions, wrap well, and freeze.  The main idea is that through purchasing the bulk packages, you save money over the month.

One of the blessings of shopping this way is that we make less trips into the city.  Not only is it costly for fuel, but it always ends up being an all-day event.  Shopping alone with two young children, especially when one is a special needs child who cannot walk the distance of the store, can be a real challenge.  We plan the shopping trips for when my husband is home.  We go as a family and load up the back of our vehicle with groceries. By going together, we have plenty of hands to help make the shopping easier.  I can push our son in his medical stroller/wheelchair while my husband handles the shopping cart.

The only drawback to our way of shopping is that it requires self-discipline.  You can’t go into the pantry and make anything you want, whenever you want it.  For example, a package of tortilla chips may look like a fun snack, but if eaten as a snack, you now don’t have any for that Nachos dinner later on.

I always plan out snacks as well as the meals.  The kids have learned that they have a free shelf in the pantry.  Anything placed on that shelf is for them to eat whenever they need a snack.  Items there usually include granola bars, trail mix, popcorn for me to help them pop on the stove, or some type of sweet like a fruit filled breakfast bar or cookies.  I buy the large boxes of granola bars from Sam’s Club and then place only a few on their shelf at a time.  Trail mix is measured out into snack size baggies.  This limits the amount they get out at a time. Like many kids, if given their choice, they would pick their favorite items out of the trail mix and leave the rest.  By making up the little bags for them, they are limited.  The small packages are great for a grab-n-go snack when we are going on an outing or they are going outdoors to play.

Overall, by using this planning method, we end up saving at least 50% each month off of our grocery costs.  I estimate the cost of each week’s menu and we budget accordingly each week.  The money is set aside in a bank account until it is time to go shopping.

The hardest month to do this is always the first one.  Luckily, I have always been good about keeping a somewhat well-stocked pantry.  Even at its worst levels, I have had a month’s supply of food.  We may be eating a lot of dried beans and lentils through that month, but we eat well.  Once we start buying for the monthly menu, the pantry can begin being built back up again.  I simply budget an extra $25 or more a month to be used strictly for building the pantry.

Some food items bought for the monthly menu may carry over into subsequent months.  One good example is dry active yeast.  I buy it from Sam’s Club for about $4.00 for a twin pack of 1 pound bags.  Those 2-pounds of dry active yeast will last the average family about a year if they bake all of their own breads, rolls, pizza crusts, etc.  Just a quick note:  I did a price comparison 4 years ago of what it would cost for that same volume of yeast if I had bought the little jars or packets from the grocery store.  The savings added up to $196 for a year’s supply through buying at Sam’s Club.  Other purchases that will likely carry over from one month to another are corn meal, sea salt and seasonings, rice, pasta, and dried beans & lentils.

I hope that this helps to explain the monthly shopping a bit better.  It takes a little practice, but the time spent is well worth the effort.  Allow your family to get involved.  Have each person think of some of their favorite meals and include those on the menus.  Maybe have a theme night menu.  If you have a night that is especially busy each week, consider always having a crockpot meal that night.  One fun tradition we have had is homemade pizza & family game night on Fridays.  If you enjoy the once a month cooking style of meals, this shopping method lends itself to that as well.

If you do bulk meal planning and shopping, I would love to read your ideas and thoughts.  Feel free to leave a comment.  If you have blogged about this topic and how you implement it in your family, share the link in the comments as well.

 

Common Sense Diet December 18, 2013

Filed under: cooking,family,simplicity,Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 8:19 am
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It seems lately that I keep seeing posts on the social networks about one diet or another.  Fad diets have always been around.  I have found though that if you follow common sense, many diet issues can be avoided.

I come from a family with a history of health problems.  My mother’s parents were both diabetic.  Common sense would dictate that I limit sweets and the foods that cause diabetics’ blood sugar levels to rise too much.  On both sides of the family there are problems with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.   Just as with the diabetic history, it is wise to moderate the amount of food that I eat that is known to affect blood pressure and cholesterol.

I began to really pay closer attention to the foods that I ate back in 2007.  Little Miss was approaching her first birthday and I was having a lot of chronic pain and mobility problems.  In fact, I was using a walker and when away from home used a wheelchair.  I did a lot of reading online to find natural means to address the problems.  I found that by eliminating processed foods, I was able to be pain-free and regain my mobility.  Fast forward a couple of years and I was dealing with high blood pressure.

Since that time, I have continued to make adjustments to my diet that has had great affect on my health.  My family has benefitted as well.  The first change was to eliminate as much processed and refined foods as possible.  the hardest to eliminate was foods containing high fructose corn syrup.  I was dismayed at how many foods contain it.  I remember hearing as a teen the idea that if you cannot pronounce or recognize the name of the ingredients in a food, then you probably shouldn’t be eating it.

Next step was to identify the foods that contribute to high cholesterol.  In the simplest of terms, animal products are the culprits.  If I stayed away from the animal products, then I wouldn’t have to be quite as concerned about my cholesterol levels getting too high.  I found that it also had an affect on my blood pressure as well.

Today, my blood pressure has been under control and within the normal range for just over 3 years without taking any prescription medications.  For a time, I was taking garlic capsules as a natural cure for high blood pressure.  I also took cinnamon capsules to help control my blood sugar levels.  Though not diabetic, I do have problems with low blood sugar from time to time.

Overall, our family eats whole foods, cooked from scratch, and eat lean meats sparingly.  My husband, son, and I each have lactose intolerance in varying levels.  We avoid milk most of the time.  We use almond milk or a low-fat powdered milk to help reduce the lactose problems.  I also cook eggs only when necessary.  Instead of using eggs in my recipes, I substitute them with flax seed meal mixed in water.  A tablespoon of the ground flax seed meal mixed with 3 tablespoons of warm water equals one egg.

When using white potatoes, I peel, cut, and soak the potatoes in water overnight before using them.  The potato water is cloudy and often thickened from the starch in the potatoes soaking out of the potatoes.  This cuts done considerably on the amount of starch you eat.  The starch turns to sugar in your body.  For those with diabetes, this can cause a lot of problems.  We also use sweet potatoes in place of white potatoes quite often.  They are far better for you and do not have the starches that russet potatoes contain.

Our diet is based on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.  For us, this is simply common sense.  I buy the basic ingredients and cook as much from scratch as possible.  We eat very little of the heavy sauces such as gravies.  I keep healthy snacks on hand.  We typically eat 5-6 times a day, including 3 light meals and 2-3 snacks.

For us, the way we eat make sense.  It isn’t following any specific diet but it works for us.  I am slowly losing weight.  Yes, I would love to lose it faster, but a slow weight loss will last longer.  The healthy eating habits we are developing will stick with us.  They will become a habit.  They will be a part of our daily lifestyle.  Eating smaller more frequent meals/snacks each day will help maintain energy levels throughout the entire day.  Come summer, when our garden is producing, the daily meals will include pickings from the garden each day.

Now, we eat very few packaged foods.  I find us eating them less and less as time goes by.  I also find that our grocery bill each month lowers even further with the whole food approach.

 

Hot Cocoa Mix Recipe December 9, 2013

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 1:32 am
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When winter storms hit, it is time to make up a batch of hot cocoa mix.  I’ve made this recipe for several years. It is not too sweet and using the non-fat dry milk makes it a recipe even those in our family with lactose intolerance able to drink it.  The recipe is as follows.

Hot Cocoa Mix

25.8 ounces dry non-fat milk
4 cups powdered sugar
2 cups cocoa powder
8 ounces powdered chocolate flavored creamer

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl or stockpot.  Place into an airtight container.

To use:  Add 3 Tbsp of mix per 1 cup of hot water.

Variation: if I have some on hand, I often add 1 large box of chocolate pudding mix to the recipe. The result is a cocoa that is a bit creamier.

 

Pantry Building October 20, 2013

Filed under: cooking,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 1:22 am
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This week, I have made serious dent in my pantry building efforts.   I gave myself budget of $70  to spend on the pantry. Here is the results.

First stop was to a store called Warehouse Market. I love buying canned veggies there because they always have the lowest prices.  I loaded up the cart with 6 flats of vegetables.  These included 2 flays each of whole kernel corn, green beans, and green peas.  A single flat holds 12 cans.  In other words, I bought 72 cans of vegetables at 58 cents each, totaling $41.76 for the veggies.  Next, I went to the produce area and bought a 50# sack of russet potatoes for $11.99.  The temperature is cold enough now in our unheated pantry that the potatoes will last the winter without sprouting or going bad.  Total cost at Warehouse Market was $53.75.

On the way home, I had an idea. Since I was under budget, I stopped at the Dollar General store and bought 8 bottles of tomato juice for a total cost of $14.80. 

Once I got home, I used the bottles of juice to make a doubled size batch of my homemade tomato soup.  Once put into jars for canning, I had 8 pints for my husband to take on the truck for meals on the road and 8 quarts for the pantry.

After all the food was purchased, the ending total was $68.55.  I was $1.45 under budget. Just the vegetable purchases alone gives me several months of meals for my family of four. The point that I am trying to make is that anyone, even those on a meager budget, can afford to stock their pantry.  Add to this a supply of pasta, rice, dried lentils and beans to really expands your pantry storage.

There is only one downside to having this type of pantry…..you have to be willing to actually cook and not simply heat up convenience foods. 

 

Winterizing October 7, 2013

Filed under: cooking,family,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 9:31 pm
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This week, my beloved husband is taking his vacation.  We are spending it winterizing the home and fixing his pickup truck.

First up is getting the new propane line put in. We had copper lines but they needed replaced due to damage. Instead of using copper again, we are installing black pipe.  It goes in so much easier and the cost of the pipe is less than half what we paid a year ago for the copper. 

Next comes covering windows with plastic. This works great, especially on the older windows of the homestead.  I am adding a little more insulation as well to the bathroom. It is one of the rooms set to be remodeled. I am adding insulation around the old window where cold air can seep in.

Another winterizing project is preparing a firewood crate on the porch so I will have a ready supply of dry, seasoned firewood for the wood burning cookstove. We took the chainsaw to be sharpened this morning so that we will be able to tackle cutting the wood later this week.

Fixing the pickup is going to possibly be an all day job.  We bought it from a neighbor and our needs a could of minor things done. One being to put on a new steering column and wheel.  That will take the longest. The rest is simple stuff like checking it over well and possibly giving it a tune-up.  We want to get out working to be used as a second vehicle. He is trying to get a local truck driving job and will need the truck.

Ongoing winterizing projects that I have include crocheting winter gear. Hats, mittens, slippers, shawls, etc. all need to be made. The nights are getting cool enough that crocheting is being done more often.

I found on a free setting pattern website the instructions and patterns for making a fleece cape with hood in both a child and adult size. It has the option for no hood as well. I am considering making the cape for both my daughter and I using fleece on the outside and a different fabric inside. Made to be waist length, it would be warmer than a shawl when on outings.

In the upcoming week, I am going to be canning winesap apples from our tree. I plan to make pie filling as well as apple butter.  Might even use a few apples to make stewed apples to go with dinner one night while Joe is still home.

Of all the seasons, autumn has always been my favorite. I enjoy the winter preparations. I always look forward to that first day when I can use the wood cookstove to make our meals. I love having a stock pot of a soup or stew simmering on the stove all day. With a simmer plate under the stock pot or dutch oven, I use it just like a slow cooker.

I guess the nostalgia never wears off.  This is definitely one of my favorite parts of our lifestyle.